Students plan to attend Global Climate Strike, but many won’t receive excused absences

Coral Gables Senior High student Sophia Gutierrez wants to attend the Miami Youth Strike for climate change on Friday, but her school is not letting her off the hook.

The event will take place at 10 a.m. outside Miami Beach City Hall and aims to raise awareness about the impact of climate change as part of the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20.

While New York City and other school districts across the country have said they will allow their students to skip class to attend coordinated youth climate protests around the world, Miami-Dade County has not offered students excused absences for that purpose, a district spokesperson said.

Gutierrez, 16, participates in an International Baccalaureate program and says she would not be given the opportunity to make up any work she missed in her advanced classes, though she said she is willing to do so.

“I have a quiz tomorrow,” Gutierrez said. “It wouldn’t be excused.”

“I feel like the school is not allowing us to express our opinions and protest peacefully,” she added. “It is something that we strongly believe in and it could actually make a difference.”

After hearing about Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen organizing the Global Youth Climate Strike, Gutierrez felt inspired to participate and demand action to confront climate change. Thunberg first started skipping school every Friday to protest the Swedish government and recently made a widely publicized voyage across the Atlantic to lead the strike in New York. She testified before Congress on Wednesday and urged lawmakers to do more about climate change.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has called for a youth-led Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20. She testified before Congress this week on the need for action to confront the climate crisis: “I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.” Jacquelyn Martin AP

Two classmates at Coral Gables, Rita Blue Grinfeder, 16, and Addys Plata, 17, started an online petition asking school administrators to offer excused absences. Spread on social media, it has surpassed 500 signatures. Even some of their teachers have signed, according to Grinfeder.

Grinfeder and Plata, both juniors, say that they will be attending the strike regardless of whether they are excused or not.

“This is about civic engagement,” Grinfeder said. “The school system drills how important it is to be civically engaged but when the time comes to do it they don’t support their students.”

Coral Gables Principal Adolfo L. Costa did not respond to requests for comment.

“Any student wishing to leave campus during the school day must follow School Board policy and be signed out appropriately by a parent or guardian,” said Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, chief communications officer at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “Such absences may not be considered excused.”

Students’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly are always respected and supported as long as they do not disrupt the educational environment, Gonzalez-Diego added.

The district has launched several environmental initiatives this year in its curriculum and has advised its 476 schools to provide activities about climate change the day of the Global Climate Strike, according to Gonzalez-Diego.

“It really makes more sense for kids to take part in activities in their schools,” Gonzalez-Diego said. “The district doesn’t sanction walkouts. We are doing it in a way that is keeping students safe.”

Broward County Public Schools has also stated that while it supports students in their efforts to raise awareness, it will not offer excused absences.

“Students may coordinate activities regarding the youth climate strike on campus with their school leadership or outside of the school day,” a spokesperson said via email.

But the leader organizer for the Miami Youth Strike, Gabriella Marchesani, 17, argues that it is important for students to miss school to draw attention to the urgency of the climate crisis.

“Students are missing school because students are scared that if they continue going to school, they might not have a future to fulfill their studies,” she said.

Marchesani and other student organizers have been planning the event since May. She hopes to see 600 students rally outside Miami Beach City Hall to raise awareness of climate change and its impact on South Florida.

The strike occurs days before a United Nations meeting for the Climate Action Summit on Sept. 23, ahead of a special General Assembly session seeking to heighten efforts to limit carbon emissions after the hottest four years on record.

Last year, the United Nations released a report warning dire and irreversible consequences from climate change beginning as early as 2040. That’s if current carbon emissions rates continue and global temperatures rise above 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit from preindustrial levels, as projected.

“This is a historic moment that we are are going to look back on,” Marchesani said. “And we’re going to say, ‘that’s the day that youth came together around the world.’ ”