During the Global Climate Strike on Friday students across the country (and the world—cause, you know, "global") will be walking out of class and rallying to encourage the government to take action on climate policy. New York City even announced that all public school students (about 1.1 million of them) will be excused from class to take part in the movement. The idea was that the move would have something of a ripple effect in school districts across the country.
However, Seattle Public Schools will not be excusing their students from class on Friday. Despite a resolution passed by the Seattle City Council earlier this week recommending SPS excuse students from class, SPS has maintained its position.
Superintendent Denise Juneau told The Stranger that "absences will not be excused because we’re following state law and board policy."
She penned a letter in response to Council Member Kshama Sawant who spearheaded the recommendation about SPS excusing students. Sawant, Juneau said, only sent a letter notifying Juneau that the resolution had passed. The council had not reached out to SPS before in any capacity.
"No, I found out when I received the letter from Sawant about the passage of the resolution," Juneau said. "It would be nice to have at least a conversation when they’re thinking about putting forth legislation that affects us so we can tell them our perception and our perspective and let them know our limitations and there might be things we can do in partnership."
Sawant, as well as Governor Jay Inslee, have called upon SPS to excuse classes on Friday.
Moments like this in our environmental history will define us and will reverberate for generations. I commend the youth in our state and across the country standing up for their future. #ClimateStrike pic.twitter.com/WftdwUmjjj
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) September 17, 2019
Juneau was firm in her stance.
"Our students are very engaged. They know how to be activists and actually do a lot of actions throughout the school year," Juneau said. "They're socially conscious and know the rules. We have a very robust culture of allowing young people to practice their first amendment rights but it always comes within the guidelines."
An unexcused absence means that a student may be unable to make up missed class time. Parents will still be able to check kids out of school (this does not, obviously, help the kids whose parents work during the day or otherwise can't check them out of school). But, walking out qualifies as "civil disobedience."
"Civil disobedience means there could be consequences," Juneau said. "And those are an unexcused absence. We're not prohibiting any sort of activity from students on this most important issue but we are following state law."
However, way back when the Seattle Seahawks clinched their Super Bowl victory, some schools allowed students excused absences to attend the victory parade. Juneau was not superintendent at that time and, from her understanding, said it was "individual schools" that did that and it was "not a district-wide excuse."
Principals have the power to excuse absences on a school-by-school basis.
Students, for the most part, won't be swayed by a missed day of class. Sisters Polly, 14, and Maia, 17, Demar are students at Garfield High School and will be participating regardless.
"As a student at Garfield," Maia said, "I don’t think unexcused absences will impact the student turnout on Friday. Our school is very passionate about how the impacts of climate change will affect us in our lifetime and how we still have time to slow it down, and we recognize that taking action is a necessity for change, even if that means missing some school."
Maia will "definitely be walking out because change has strength in numbers and the future of us and our children are more important to me than what I’m learning in Calculus." She also pointed out that some of the GHS faculty will be walking out as well.
Polly agreed. She said that she doesn’t "really care if my absence is unexcused because I’m doing this for my future and the one day I miss at school isn’t going to teach me what we can teach the government by hundreds of students missing school."
She said that while the decision to not excuse absences doesn't impact Polly, it impacts students with stricter parents.
"I asked my friend if she was walking out and she told me her mom wouldn’t allow the unexcused absence so I will be walking out for her as well," Polly said.
In the meantime, some parents are taking to Twitter trying to find doctors notes to excuse students en-masse. One climate scientist (still technically a doctor!) has offered up a form letter that students can print out and give to their teachers.
Sawant and students at Washington Middle School called upon the school board to reconsider this move on Wednesday morning. As of Wednesday afternoon, Juneau and SPS haven't wavered. There is a school board meeting tonight where students have signed up for public comment to urge SPS to excuse the absences.
The teens, man, they really are the future.
As I'm writing this, Greta Thunberg and teen activists from across the country, including Seattle's Jamie Margolin who was profiled by the Seattle Times, are testifying in front of Congress to take real action on climate change.
"I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action."
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared before Congress to urge lawmakers to "listen to the scientists" and embrace global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. https://t.co/txEdAiOYKC pic.twitter.com/O51ESiqOYI
— ABC News (@ABC) September 18, 2019