Student participants of Global Climate Strike will be penalized with unexcused absence

SEATTLE -- Students across the Puget Sound are planning to walk out of class on Friday to participate in the Global Climate Strike. Their push to promote action against climate change could be faced with consequences at some school districts.

Seattle Public Schools says their absence from class will not be excused if they walk out on Friday. District spokesperson Tim Robinson said the unexcused absence is part of school board policy and state law.

“It doesn’t meet the criteria for what would be an excused absence,” said Robinson. “Organizations, especially public organizations, have to do what they have to do. They have a responsibility to follow state law and the guidelines, and in our case school board policy as much as there may be difference in personal opinion.”

There are more than 50,000 students in Seattle Public Schools. Friday’s strike could result in a huge turnout. Robinson said he’s encouraging students to stay in class as teachers focus discussion about climate change.

“We really recognize our students’ rights of self-expression and freedom of speech,” said Robinson. “If we said, ‘Sure students, excused absence. Go for it,’ we would be criticized for letting students out of class.”

Some Seattle Public Schools students said they were willing to participate in the strike.

“If human life on earth changes so drastically, what we learn today may not matter in 50 years,” said Thomas Koehnline, a student at Garfield High School. “It is very essential that the youth are one of the leading voices with regards to enacting change.”

Benjamin Goodwin, a student at Garfield High School, said he was already working to reduce his carbon footprint by walking and taking public transportation.

“It saves so much more fuel than if everyone was driving a car. Because if everyone was driving a car that’s at least 20 times the amount of fuel that’s being exhausted into the air per bus,” said Goodwin.

Seattle City Council members said students were already showing moral responsibility against climate change. The council passed a resolution, unanimously, stating students should not be penalized for their participation.

“They are starting to take action. They’re going to go on strike Friday. The question is will the school board and the superintendent of the school district also take such historic action by supporting the students and allowing excused absences,” said Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.

The King County Council voted Wednesday to support students participating in the Global Climate Strike.

“Local leadership is more important than ever as we confront the stark and troubling realities of climate change,” said King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci. “The September 20 walkout, led by students, inspires all of us – students, community organizations, businesses, neighbors and government – to take the significant actions needed to confront the challenges ahead.”

A representative with Everett School District said they would will also charge students with an unexcused absence according to its policies and procedures. Representatives with Tacoma Public Schools and Bellevue School District said schools would allow the students to be absent for the walkout as long as their parents give permission.

Koehnline, also a coordinator with an organization called March For Our Lives, said he planned to encourage as many students as possible to join him during the walkout.

"I think it was Mark Twain who stated that he wasn’t going to let schooling get in the way of his education. And I think that’s very important to something in regards to climate change,” said Koehline. “Even if they don’t end up excusing absences on that day, it really is essential that youth attend. There may be consequences that arise, but in the end, I think that it matters even more than missing a single day of school.”

The Global Climate Strike was scheduled for Friday, September 20. Some Seattle students planned to walk out of class to meet at Cal Anderson Park at 9 a.m. At noon, the group planned to march to Seattle City Hall, be followed by a youth-led rally to wrap up the strike.

Some adults also planned to walk out of work and join the march. City and County Council said staff could take a day of pre-approved unpaid leave to participate.