Students With Excused Absences Can Cut Class to Strike on Climate, Portland Public Schools Says

A Portland Public Schools spokesperson said that students should check in with their teachers before walking out.

Portland Public Schools will not be punishing students who skip class for Friday's climate strike if they get an excused absence from their teachers, according to a Sept. 16 district statement.

Middle and high school students should let their teachers or athletic directors know that they'll be walking out ahead of time, Portland Public Schools said, and should schedule a time to make up any assignments, quizzes or tests they would be missing on Friday.

The district wants elementary schoolers and pre-kindergarteners to stay in class for "developmentally appropriate 'Climate Change Awareness'" lessons, which would include assemblies, movies and readings on climate change. But families also have the legal right to excuse their students from school and march at City Hall. (K-5 students can also be picked up after school as per usual, the district said.)

"PPS is not sponsoring this event," the district said," but we do recognize students' constitutional right to freedom of expression."

A Portland Public Schools spokesperson said that students should check in with their teachers before walking out.

Portland's climate strike is one of the more than 800 happening in the U.S., according to a Sept. 16 statement from 350, a climate-change activism nonprofit whose Portland chapter is sponsoring Friday's strike. Over 4,400 strikes will take place in 132 countries around the world.

Related: Teen Activists Will Lead a Climate Strike in Portland This Week. Here's What to Expect.

Students will be striking to demand Portland City Hall declare a climate emergency with a clear timeline for how the city will address the climate crisis; create some kind of policy that ensures every city decision takes climate into account; and fund bus passes for all youth in the Portland metro area, among other goals.

The activists' demands, sent to Portland Public Schools in a letter on Aug. 27, told the district about the strike and asked it to "take action to support student leadership and activism in the face of the climate crisis."

Those demands included letting students promote the strike via morning announcements, assemblies and official school social media, as well as not punishing students nor student-athletes for missing class or practice. The students also demanded teachers not hold tests on the day of the strike and conduct lessons on climate change on the days leading up to the strike.

"It is clear that youth have a unique perspective on the issue of climate justice, which is why it is so important for us to be taking strong action," the letter, which asked for a response from the district by Sept. 3, said. "We are youth who care about the future, youth who want to work toward solutions, youth who are willing to make sacrifices and stand up for what we believe in. That is why we are counting on Portland Public Schools to support us in this action."

The district has a delicate balance to maintain. District officials likely remember that parents sued Portland Public Schools in March, alleging that the district coordinated too closely with a gun-control walkout, violating the civil rights of students opposed to such policies.

In a letter sent to activists on Sept. 13, Portland Public Schools wrote that—after meetings with youth organizers, district administrators and others—it would work with students on when and where they could promote the march in ways that "ensure no interference with school programming." It announced plans for a student-proposed climate summit in spring 2020 as well as the district's incoming Climate Justice Program Manager.

"We are excited to be the first school district in the country to launch this new dedicated role to support this important work," Portland Public Schools said.

Jaden Winn, one of the teenage organizers behind the strike, said that he was happy the district won't punish students with excused absences for walking out.

Correction: Students intending to strike will not need to fill out a pre-arranged absence forms from their school's attendance office a day before they miss school nor will they receive make-up time or detentions without an excused absence. The policy that WW linked to only referred to Wilson High School and does not apply to the entire district. A Portland Public Schools spokesperson said that students intending to walk out only need to check in with their teachers. WW regrets the error.

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