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Unexcused absences: Valuing sporting victories over political involvement?

People question how absences were handled for the Sounders parade versus the walkout

Keely Carolan and Chris Barrett
Originally published January 19, 2017

Miles WhitworthBallard students walk out in protest of the Trump presidency. Similar walkouts occurred in high schools and middle schools across the district.

Miles Whitworth

Ballard students walk out in protest of the Trump presidency. Similar walkouts occurred in high schools and middle schools across the district.

“Political participation should not be stamped out in our country’s youth – not in a time when the nation is in crucial need of this kind of enthusiasm.”

For the first time in the history of Major League Soccer, the Seattle Sounders won the MLS cup in an exciting game against Toronto FC on December 10, 2016. To celebrate this exciting victory, the team held a march and rally downtown on December 13, much like the celebration that took place when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl a few years back.

Naturally, some students were absent from school that day in order to attend the event. The day before the parade, Principal Wynkoop sent out an e-mail addressing how absences would be excused (with parent permission), while students would still be responsible for any work that they missed in their classes.

Now let’s take it back to about a month earlier; November 14. The Monday following Election Day. A student-organized walkout was scheduled to take place in the afternoon to express student opinions over the election results. At the end of morning announcements, Principal Keven Wynkoop reminded students that any absences that afternoon would NOT be excused, regardless of whether or not a student had parent permission. He also encouraged students to really think about why they were participating in the walkout, and not to just use it as an excuse to skip class.

“I received a mixture of feedback from parents,” Principal Wynkoop said. “Some were very supportive of accepting excuse notes [after the parade] from parents, while others were concerned about what they saw as a double standard.”

When you look at how absences for of both these events were handled, something seems off. Absences for a celebration of a community victory were excused, while those on account of students exercising their First Amendment right and addressing an event that affected the entire nation were not? The logic here definitely seems to be flawed, and many parents are questioning the underlying message that is sent to students through these actions.

If the walkout could be construed as an excuse for skipping school, what does that make the parade? It seems strange that student-led political assembly would be met with such suspicion and analysis while this kind of absence would be forgiven.

“Regardless of my personal support for the message of the walkout, it was a political rally,” Wynkoop said in an e-mail responding to parent’s concerns. “By definition, political rallies are supported by some and not by others. The partisan nature of it made the consideration of excusals too loaded to allow.”

Wynkoop also cited the fact that since he excused the Seahawks parade in 2014, it would be inconsistent of him to not do the same for this, and also that if he excused the walkout, it wouldn’t be much of a “walkout.”

“After receiving my explanation, all parents were understanding, although… some felt that parents should always be able to decide which absences are excused and some felt that none of the absences should be able to be excused.”

While students were not in school during the walkout, it’s undeniable that it provided an excellent learning opportunity to students. It was a perfect chance for them to practice exercising their first amendment rights in a somewhat controlled environment.

It was a way to encourage them to voice their opinions and take action for what they believe is right. It was a time to learn the importance of participating in society in order to make a difference for themselves and their community. Not to mention how monumental the election result was.

Such a vast number of people, within our school community and throughout the country, were affected emotionally by the election of Trump, and the day following the election was a solemn one for those living in such liberal places as Seattle. Altogether, why would the school discourage students from participating in such a unique and valuable opportunity? Sure, there were definitely some students who used the walkout as an excuse to skip class and take off, but that certainly happened on the day of the parade as well. No matter the event, there will always be students who take advantage of it to miss school. What matters is the majority of students who do intend to participate in the events, and how the handling of absences affects them.

Political participation should not be stamped out in our country’s youth – not in a time when the nation is in crucial need of this kind of enthusiasm. Almost half of eligible voters did not take part in this year’s election; it was the lowest turnout in a U.S. presidential ballot since 1920. We can’t afford to let kids be disconnected from politics. The values and passions that are instilled in youth will follow them into adulthood, and in that way encouraging students to have a voice in politics has great value. Or at the very least, more value than a soccer parade.

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Unexcused absences: Valuing sporting victories over political involvement?