The Montgomery County school system will not excuse students to attend climate change protests this week, despite a request from the county executive.
In a letter to the school board and Superintendent Jack Smith on Tuesday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich urged an exception to MCPS policy — to let students get an excused absence to attend a climate rally on Friday in Washington, D.C.
“I understand that you have many issues to consider when making this type of decision, but I do think it could be allowed within certain parameters such as requiring parental consent … requiring evidence of their attendance … and follow up summary of the event,” Elrich wrote. “However you decide to address it, I do believe there’s a way to allow it while addressing security and other concerns.”
In a response on Thursday, MCPS and school board members said they support student advocacy and are “proud of students when they speak out for what they believe.” But, they wrote, students who want to “engage in the civic process during school hours” should do so while at school.
“Leaving school property not only disrupts instruction for other students, it poses a significant safety risk,” said the statement, which the district provided in response to an inquiry by Bethesda Beat. “We encourage students to work with school leadership to plan alternative opportunities for groups to express their views while remaining safe on campus.”
A protest, known as a global climate strike, will be held Friday in more than 150 countries to protest government and business inaction on climate change.
New York City’s public school system announced last week it would excuse students who skip class Friday to attend strike activities. The decision frees up 1.1 million students to participate in the demonstrations.
MoCo Students on Climate, a student-led climate advocacy group, has attended several recent school board meetings requesting excused absences to attend the event without penalty to their attendance record.
The group has established an online petition, demanding that MCPS work harder to reduce the impact of its daily school operations on the climate.
It calls on MCPS officials to reduce the district’s carbon footprint by developing a plan to ensure that new school buildings have zero greenhouse gas emissions, use electric school buses, incorporate climate change education for high school students and establish a student-led committee to suggest policies for a “low-greenhouse gas lifestyle.”
In 2018, about 3,000 students from county schools walked out of schools to rally for stronger gun-control legislation. On the same day one year later, thousands of students left school to attend a rally in D.C. in opposition of gun violence.
In each instance, students who participated were given unexcused absences.
MCPS policy does not allow students to miss classes to attend events like rallies, protests and strikes.
The school board in January tabled a proposed change to the policy that would have allowed three unexcused absences per year to participate in such events. School board members have raised concerns about the change’s impact on student attendance and how the school system would verify students are attending civic events. The topic has not been scheduled for further discussion.
In its on Thursday statement, MCPS and the school board highlighted a recent resolution the board passed reiterating its commitment to pursuing energy conservation efforts, preserving natural resources and incorporating curriculum about climate and the environment into classes.
“Additionally, several MCPS schools have earned National Green Ribbon awards for their commitment to environmental sustainability and 17 schools host solar panels, making MCPS a leader on solar power among school districts in Maryland,” the statement said. “… MCPS is working closely with the County government to further the impact of our environmental sustainability efforts.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org