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Demonstrators gather in Baltimore, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, as part of a nationwide protest called A Day Without Immigrants. Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America's economy and its way of life. The boycott was aimed squarely at President Donald Trump's efforts to crack down on immigration, legal and illegal. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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Jay Greeson

Thursday night, as the Hamilton County Board of Education discussed which crumbling school buildings would get Band-Aids and comb-overs, there was an interesting storyline that has gone relatively unnoticed.

Sure, parents at Harrison Elementary School and the perpetual bridesmaid that is Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts waited for financial decisions about their buildings. But there was more.

Hamilton County Schools officials told the Times Free Press that as many as 1,700 Latino children from nine different schools were absent Thursday.

Yes, 1,700. Also of note, Thursday was "A Day Without Immigrants" across the country, a planned protest to show, in organizers' words, "the importance of immigrants," according to The Associated Press.

For perspective, that 1,700 figure represents almost 4 percent of the about 43,540 students in Hamilton County public schools, according to internet numbers. But know that those 1,700 were from only nine of the system's 78 schools.

"We have seen an increase [Thursday] in absences at our schools with larger populations of English Language Learners," HCDE spokeswoman Amy Katcher said in a statement. "We at HCDE open our doors to all children in our community. It is our goal to keep all of our children safe and to offer each and every one of them a high-quality education."

Excellent. Great sound bite.

Of course, we want all of our public school children to feel safe. We also want all of our public school children to be treated in a fair and open manner.

That said, we would have to assume that all of the kids deciding to skip school Thursday will get zeroes, or whatever comes with an unexcused absence, right?

If not, are we prepared for the place where an everyday hooky — for whatever reason — is excused for the personal belief the student or the student's family has?

Are we there? If we are, will the opposite end of that perspective be just as respected?

Here's betting "no" on that last question, friends, but here's hoping answers are being bounced around the big offices at Bonny Oaks.

So the education department and all of our educational leaders have a great chance to deliver a school lesson and a lifetime lesson with the "Without Immigrants Day" and how it affects school kids.

Embrace the chance to share the lesson that protest can be a powerful thing. Embrace the fact that it's the right of every American citizen, whether they are born here or come here and follow the steps to become a citizen.

That's a great and noble thing, and something that should be a part of the lessons of free speech.

Then, teach them that every action has a reaction. Every protest or demonstration is your right, but the reaction or the results to that right must be measured.

Those 1,700 kids who decided to skip school Thursday have every right to make that call. It's the basis of America under the First Amendment.

Those 1,700 kids who decided to skip school Thursday also have every right to face the fallout of that decision. That's the basis of personal choice.

And to pretend otherwise is a disservice to them, to their classmates and the future of our country.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343.

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