Should You Get a Day Off for Activism?

In Fairfax, Virginia, students get one excused absence per year for “civic engagement.” Is missing school for activism a good idea? Two Choices advisers weigh in.


When I skipped school last year to attend a town hall held by my local congressman, I felt out of place in the sea of professionals and elected officials. But I wasn’t surprised that I was one of the only students there—many civic activities happen during school hours, so teens must decide if participating is worth a bad mark on their attendance record. Too often we miss important chances to make our voices heard because we don’t want to get in trouble with our school. If schools gave us a day off for civic engagement, we wouldn’t be forced to choose between being good students and being good citizens.

Giving students a day off for activism helps us fight for what matters most to us. According to a 2019 survey by Irregular Labs, 73 percent of Gen Zers said being politically or socially engaged is very important to their identity. My generation has a plethora of social issues facing us, and we’re hungry to do something about them. For example, when we learn about the adverse effects of plastic pollution in our biology classes, we might be galvanized to lobby to protect the environment. When schools support us in putting our education into action, they empower students to make the world a better place.

Another reason students should get a day off for activism is because directly engaging with our communities makes us better citizens. If you learn about the world only through the classroom, you can feel cut off from reality. When I attended that town hall, I got a firsthand understanding of the political process far more vivid than anything I could learn from a textbook.

Administrators who don’t support excusing students from school for civic engagement may argue that teachers could create in-class simulations where students learn about testifying and protesting. But how can a classroom replicate the thrill of marching with thousands of your fellow students, or the exhilaration of speaking in front of a roomful of politicians about a cause?

When students have the backing of their schools to attend events in the name of civic engagement, they develop the drive and hands-on experience to become socially responsible leaders and changemakers of the 21st century.


Last year, I found myself in a dilemma: go to a rally in support of raising the minimum age for tobacco use, or stay in school and go to my AP class. The thought of rallying alongside peers in support of a worthy cause was electrifying. But I knew missing one lesson would make it harder for me to understand the material in the next. Ultimately I decided to pass on the rally and show solidarity with the cause through social media.

While I think it’s commendable that Virginia wants to encourage civic engagement among students, the last thing students need is more time off from school. According to, 1 out of 7 students miss 10 percent of school days each year. Chronic absences put students at risk of poor academic performance or even dropping out. That’s why schools’ focus should be on keeping kids in class, not giving them more reasons to be absent.

Additionally, how can schools be sure students are actually using the day for activism? When I’m sick and need to stay home, I have to get a note from a parent or doctor excusing the absence. How would students get an excused absence note from a protest or a rally? For some students, a day off to protest might be an irresistible invitation to sleep in late or go to the movies instead of being civically engaged.

Even if students legitimately use the day off as it was intended, they will get less out of their activism if they’re only doing it as a way to get out of school. If a student gives up her free time to support a cause she believes in, the sacrifice makes her action meaningful. But if she’s participating only as a way to skip class, it undermines the importance of the issue as well as her involvement.

Supporters of giving kids time off to protest say that it prepares them for the real world by letting them act on what they learn in the classroom. I disagree. In the real world, you have to make time for civic activity outside your job. For students, school is our job, and while we should all be engaged in issues we care about, we should find time outside our “work” to fight for them.

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