City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, unhappy that students who protest on Inauguration Day might get dinged with an unexcused absence, has started a petition calling for Seattle schools officials to “respect the right of students to protest.”
Students at a number of Seattle middle and high schools are planning walkouts for Inauguration Day on Friday, and the district is telling families that any students who participate likely will receive an unexcused absence.
That’s under a longstanding district policy, a spokesman said, and it was in place in November when thousands of students walked out of class to protest the election of Donald Trump.
Seattle Public Schools sent a reminder about the unexcused-absence policy last week.
In response, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has asked the district to withdraw the letter, which went to students’ families, and she also started a petition to “respect the right of students to protest.”
The school district, she said in a statement, needs to recognize these protests as legitimate actions in defense of the rights of students, their families and fellow community members.
It’s unclear how many will take part, but in November, 5,000 students from 20 Seattle middle and high schools walked out or held rallies outside their buildings to show their opposition to Trump.
Students said they also wanted to express solidarity with communities that may feel targeted by the Trump administration, such as immigrants, refugees and Muslims.
Officials from other Seattle-area districts said they aren’t aware of any walkouts in their schools that are planned for Friday.
In Seattle, some student groups plan to rally outside their school buildings and then march in the vicinity. Others are planning to attend larger gatherings in places like Judkins Park, Seattle Central College and Westlake Park.
But while the district has warned students about skipping school, which means they might not be able to make up coursework, district spokesman Luke Duecy also said each school’s principal has the final word.
And while Sawant said the district’s email threatens disciplinary action against the students who walk out, Duecy disagreed, saying the district was just reminding families about a policy already in place.
“Seattle Public Schools is a public institution,” he said. “We cannot take part, and we do not take part, in coordinated political activity.”
The district is also coordinating with the Seattle Police Department, in case students need escorts if they plan to walk in the street, Duecy said. Sawant called the email’s reference to coordinating with police “highly troubling.”
In a council briefing Monday, she said the district’s mention is “the most ominous thing in the letter.”
Seattle students are no strangers to walkouts, having staged at least a dozen in the past three years over school funding, standardized testing and teacher terminations.
In the past, the district has also allowed principals to have the final say on whether to excuse students.
After the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2014, then-Superintendent José Banda told parents that students would be marked with an unexcused absence for attending the victory parade, which was on a school day.
He eventually changed his mind, following criticism and a plea from Mayor Ed Murray, and said he would leave the decision up to principals.