New York City Schools Will Excuse Students to Participate in Climate Strikes

Students march in San Francisco Youth Climate Strike

Intothewoods7 – Students march in San Francisco Youth Climate Strike, March 2019 CC BY-SA 4.0

The NYC Department of Education has promised no repercussions for skipping class on September 20.

Students in the New York City public school system are delighted that they can skip classes this coming Friday to participate in the Global Climate Strike. The department of education stated on Twitter (and elsewhere) that it will "excuse absences of students participating in the climate strike on Friday 9/20. Students will need parental consent. Younger students can only leave school with a parent."

The announcement has solved a dilemma for many students who wanted to be part of the protests but did not want to be punished for it. The irony, of course, is that the protests are "framed as a cry to protect their futures from climate disaster" (via NY Times), so it would make sense to attend, but many students, parents, and teachers were unsure of how to handle it and feared repercussions.

The decision, supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, has infused the protest organizers with excitement and anticipation for the event, which is now going to be bigger than ever; there are 1.1 million students in the New York school board. Others are irritated by the announcement. The New York Times reports:

"Many critics — ranging from climate-change deniers to people who argue for a less radical approach to fighting climate change — said Mayor Bill de Blasio was using school attendance policy to promote a political aim. The New York Post’s editorial board called the decision 'out-and-out government sponsorship of a particular point of view.'"

The last time that absences for the purpose of protest were approved was in 2018, when students were allowed to skip class to protest for tighter gun controls, in solidarity with the students of Parkland, Florida, following its tragic shooting. The message being sent this time is that climate change is as important an issue as gun control, and many students are happy to see that.

It will be interesting to see how many take to the streets on this Friday, September 20, ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit that will start the following week, and whether the leaders attending that summit will be swayed by the youthful anger and determination in the streets around them. Let's hope they are.