Attendance at Wichita schools dropped significantly Thursday as immigrants across the country stayed home from school or work to illustrate their impact on the U.S. economy and way of life.
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District spokeswoman Susan Arensman said the number of unexcused absences more than doubled Thursday compared with previous days.
According to Arensman, 2,535 students were reported absent without a valid excuse from Wichita elementary schools on Thursday morning, compared to 878 unexcused absences on Wednesday and 641 on Tuesday.
At middle and high schools, about 12,000 unexcused absences were reported Thursday morning, Arensman said, compared with between 5,000 and 5,500 each day earlier this week. That number includes students counted absent multiple times for different class periods, she said.
Wichita principals were instructed to treat Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” boycott “just as any other school day,” according to an e-mail.
Arensman said district leaders addressed the issue in a message to principals on Wednesday, directing them to be aware of the planned protest but to conduct business as usual.
Participation in the walk-out would not be considered an excused absence for students or employees, she said.
“There is no question that we value the diversity in our district and community, and have deep appreciation for the students, employees and their families who come to us from countries other than the US,” said the e-mail to principals from assistant superintendents Bill Faflick and Alicia Thompson.
“That said, it is important to emphasize that school is in session on Thursday, Feb. 16, just as any other school day.”
Students and employees not reporting to school on Thursday would be excused “for a valid reason,” such as an illness, medical appointment or family funeral, the e-mail said. But “participation in a walk-out is not an excusable absence.”
Wichita students and employees not reporting to school on Thursday will be excused “for a valid reason,” such as an illness, medical appointment or family funeral. But “participation in a walk-out is not an excusable absence,” officials said.
“We do not request or expect you to make broader building announcements,” Faflick and Thompson said in the e-mail. “Rather, we expect tomorrow to be treated as any other school day.”
“A Day Without Immigrants” actions, planned in cities across the country, gained momentum this week on social media and by word of mouth. The protest was organized in response to President Trump, whose administration has pledged to increase the deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally.
In some school districts with large immigrant populations, such as Los Angeles, school officials urged students and teachers not to join the protest.
Sherman Padgett, principal at Wichita North High School, said Thursday morning that he wasn’t yet sure whether students were absent in larger-than-usual numbers. Nearly 1,000 of North’s 2,200 students qualify to test for English as their second language.
Padgett said he hoped students would not participate in the “Day Without Immigrants” protest by skipping school.
“You shouldn’t hurt yourselves trying to make a point to the oppressor,” Padgett said. “You don’t not go to school. You fight hard to have a right to a public education.”
Padgett said he directed teachers who asked about the protest on Wednesday to encourage students to report to school.
“I want our staff just to tell kids ‘You have a right to be here.’ This is a human right to be educated and to learn, and don’t give that up.”
An East High student – one of about 400 people who participated in a protest at Nomar Plaza at 21st and North Broadway on Thursday – said she was representing her parents, who had to work “because we still need money to keep our family going.”
“I’m here to join the protest for all the illegals,” said the 16-year-old student, who asked not to be identified out of fear for her parents. “My parents are illegal, and if they take them away, there isn’t going to be much here left.
“There are going to be a lot of families that are deported,” she said. “But if most of us get deported, what is going to be left in America?”
Contributing: Oliver Morrison of The Eagle