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School’s Dilemma With Student Climate Strike On September 20

Published on: 6 Sep, 2019
Updated on: 7 Sep, 2019

Students from Guildford are planning to strike for climate change on Friday, September 20, inspired by young climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.

An estimated 150 Guildford school children and others marching down Guildford High Street earlier in the year to protest against inaction on climate change.

But school authorities face a dilemma about whether to grant approval for their day’s absence as they balance educational needs against supporting the student’s passion to fight for climate action.

The strike by Surrey students is part of a worldwide movement by young people coordinated by the Global Climate Strike movement in protest about government inaction on climate change.

Youth Strike 4 Climate activists preparing to take part in the Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 20. Photo by Paul Couchman.

But student strikes may not be without penalties as parents can be fined for taking children out of school without authorisation. Such absences could also stand as a negative comment in a the child’s school record. In a draft letter to head teachers requesting permission seen by The Guildford Dragon NEWS, parents stressed the importance of the school strike to pupils and the need for schools to encourage them. The draft said: “I cannot stand in my children’s way to demand a future. It’s not a lot to ask and yet they are told by adults ‘Sorry, it’s just too difficult’, I hope you will not be one of those adults.”

The fight for causes by Nelson Mandela, the Suffragettes and Gandhi were all cited in the draft letter as reasons for the school and the children “to be on the right side of history.”

About 30 young protestors in the High Street in April called out for more action on climate change.

The young activists say that they do not believe that the government, or Surrey County Council and Guildford Borough Council, are doing enough despite declaring a climate emergency. They also want schools in Surrey to act on pledges which are being promoted by the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN). Commitment to the pledges by schools would include educating students about the extent and severity of the climate crisis and encouraging them, and their teachers, to strike and campaign for action on the climate.

Hattie Twigger-Ross, one of the Guildford youth strike co-ordinators, said: “This is our future so we are taking a stand. Our planet is dying and yet politicians think it is ok to ignore it. But we can’t. Does anyone understand what an emergency is? We can’t just talk about it, we have to take action.”

Petra Todd, another of the strike co-ordinators, said: “We feel stronger with every protest because people who come feel they are actually doing something about the climate crisis rather than just worrying about it.”

Surrey County Council says it supports the action. It said that staff who wished to join in could take a day’s leave but stopped short of approving student absences.

Surrey County Council Cllr Julie Iles

Cabinet member for all age learning, Cllr Julie Iles, said: “Surrey County Council encourages schools to look for opportunities to build climate change into their lessons and engage in local projects to improve air quality, reduce emissions and minimise waste. However, regarding students wanting to participate in the day of action, that will be a decision for the individual schools and Surrey County Council does not influence these decisions.”

Alistair McKenzie, principal at Kings College in Park Barn, said: “Some Kings College students from last year were involved in climate action protests but I have not yet been approached by any of our current pupils. I wouldn’t like to comment until I do get a request for permission. We discuss environmental issues including climate change with our students as it is a vital issue but education is important as well.”

George Abbot School in Burpham had given students leave of absence for previous climate change protests, which have been occurring once a month since February. A spokesperson for the school said: “Our role as educators requires us to provide clear and accurate information to students which does include highlighting the urgency of change on global warming. Each student absence request is considered on a case-by-case basis but we are, in principle, supportive of our committed student activists.”

Youth Strike 4 Climate Facebook post on September 3 listing the schools in the area where there is student support for the strike.

The student strike is gaining support from unions with Unison, the largest trade union in the UK, rallying in Guildford on the same day and also requesting the full backing of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Paul Couchman, Surrey Branch Secretary of Unison, said: “We are in full support of the action these courageous young people have been taking.

“Currently politicians are arguing over deal or no-deal, Brexit or Remain, but in the real world the Amazon is burning, our oceans are dying, energy companies continue to profit from fossil fuels and in Surrey our airports continue to expand, incinerators are being brought online and fracking is causing earthquakes.”

The students will be meeting outside Holy Trinity Church in Guildford High Street at 10.30am on Friday, September 20. They plan to march down the High Street to Guildford Borough Council offices and then on to Guildford railway station to join up with the Unison members. Adults are being asked to “stand hand-in-hand with youth strikers across the world.”

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Responses to School’s Dilemma With Student Climate Strike On September 20

  1. Susie Campbell Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Fantastic to see young people leading the way and encouraging to see their schools might support them.

  2. Alison Moulden Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    I think every school should allow authorised absence for any child who wants to avoid the cataclysm that awaits them if they can’t get their voices heard. How awful it’s the kids that are having to do it in the first place. We’ve stolen their childhoods.

  3. BT Smith Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    These young people are a true inspiration. I feel a significant amount of responsibility for the future that our children are facing, and will do anything I can to support them fighting for their future.

    Schools, teachers, trade unions should all be taking to the streets to demand climate justice for our future generations, for the workers whose jobs must be securely transitioned, and for the hundreds of millions of people at risk in the southern hemisphere.

    Full respect to these brave students.

  4. Jonathan Mitchell Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Excellent. Let’s step out of our comfort zones and join them!

    The last sentence is a call for adults to join the Guildford School Strikers on Friday 20th September.

    Per Greta Thunberg, 23 May 2019:
    “So this is our invitation. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kickstart a week of climate action with a worldwide strike for the climate. We’re asking adults to step up alongside us. There are many different plans underway in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together, with your neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make your voices heard and make this a turning point in our history”

  5. Katherine Clowser Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    A great article. All authorities need to have a long, hard think about what an emergency means and what they can do to support the change needed.

  6. John Armstrong Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    I don’t know why the campaigners cannot leave the kids alone. They are just using them to further their own political aims.

  7. M Smith Reply

    September 8, 2019 at 4:16 am

    Please let’s have a bit of common sense here. By all means encourage children to take an interest in current affairs but to take their advice on geopolitical issues is utter madness. Any society which acts on the demands of its children is doomed.

  8. Stephanie Bleach Reply

    September 8, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for this article. I will be there supporting the youth in Surrey on the 20th.

  9. Julia Shaw Reply

    September 10, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    What courageous and inspiring students! They have my full support.

    • Jules Cranwell Reply

      September 10, 2019 at 10:59 pm

      Mine too. We have but one planet.

  10. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 10, 2019 at 11:07 pm

    About time GBC stepped up to support these courageous children.

    The one thing they could do is to challenge the Tory Local Plan, which would have such a devastating impact on our environment locally.

    Instead, they have chosen to defend the judicial reviews against this atrocity.

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