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Two bills expanding excused school absences clear House committee

Tom Byrne
Delaware Public Media

Legislation related to expanding excused school absences made its way through the House Education Committee Wednesday.


House lawmakers examined two bills to expand what would be allowed as an excused absence for public school students statewide.


State Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton’s (D-Christina) bill would grant students the right to be excused from school for any religious holiday.


Wilson-Anton addressed concerns about the bill from State Rep. Richard Collins (R-Millsboro) that it would create more divisiveness and isn’t specific enough in defining what counts as a religious holiday.


She pointed to the lack of observance of Ramadan and the festival of Eid al-Fitr her family observes as muslims.


“I don’t think that the bill opens up a can of worms — I think instead it’s a way of achieving a parity which doesn’t exist,” she said. “And like I said, in my own personal experience — I mean, I could even say right now my sister is in school and she’s likely to go to school tomorrow even though it’s a very important holiday for us.”


Wilson-Anton added the bill doesn’t distinguish between religions, be it Christianity or Satanism, but seeks to strengthen freedom of religion in Delaware.


The bill advanced through the committee, along with State Rep. Eric Morrison’s (D-Newark) bill to grant students one excused absence per year to attend a civic event.


Sussex Academy student Samantha Oliver told lawmakers it will help bolster and strengthen the education they get in the classroom.


“By excusing students to take part in civic activities, you are allowing us to actively shape history, as opposed to passively absorbing the facts and dates with oru curriculum deemed necessary,” Oliver said. “What better way is there to learn about our freedom of speech than to attend a rally? What better way is there to learn about bills and laws than to testify for one?”


The bill is receiving bipartisan support from lawmakers, including State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, who says requiring a parental note helps protect parental rights.


Morrison plans to amend the measure to remove ‘walk-outs’ from the list included activities.


The amendment will also bring back a requirement that schools receive  three days advance notice of an absence from a parent.


That reversal sparked criticism from one member of the public who noted important civic events don’t always come with advance notice, and students who wake up sick are excused without notice.


Both bills now make their way to the House floor.


Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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