Many Philly students leave school for climate change protest, despite being marked absent

"The government and Congress can't ignore us any more."

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

UPDATED with statement from the School District

It was appropriate that the class that Hazel Carb packed up and walked out of this morning so she could protest climate change was World History.

Rather than dwelling on the past, she was thinking about the future.

Philadelphia 9th graders at the climate change protest include (from left) Hazel Carb of Central High and Lavonda Lucas, Max Perlman, and Ren Gibson, all of High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. (Photo: Dale Mezzacappa)

“There’s no point in going to school if the world we’re growing up in is so bad,” said Carb, 14, a 9th grader at Central High School. She took the subway to City Hall, where she met up with thousands more people at the youth-organized protest, including an unknown number of other District students. All of them will be marked absent for the day or part of it. Carb said she would be recorded as missing five class periods.

“I guess it will be like we cut class,” she said, a little worried about that, but firm in her conviction that action is necessary.

Other students agreed.

“It’s the world we’re growing up in, and we want to see change,” said Ren Gibson, 14, a 9th grader at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA).

Torie Flanagan, 14, also a CAPA 9th grader, said she’s scared to have children when she’s older “because climate change is affecting everything so negatively.”

Justin Hujack said young people have to make a statement. These protests “are having an impact all over the world,” he said. “They are happening in New York and California, and many cities in each state. The government and Congress can’t ignore us any more as they have been.”

Torie Flanagan. (Photo: Dale Mezzacappa)

In response to a Notebook Facebook post asking what schools were participating in the protest, we heard from Central, CAPA, Greenfield, Masterman, Science Leadership Academy, Green Woods Charter (which has an environmental focus), New Foundations Charter, and Folk-Arts Cultural Treasures (FACTS) charter. Charter schools had their own absence policies.

Other District schools planned their own events around climate change protests, including Saul Agricultural High School, which has an environmental science curriculum and did a 30-minute walkout at its Roxborough campus.

In a statement, the District reiterated its position: “We fully support our students’ rights to self-expression in response to their growing awareness of social issues. In an effort to promote student voice in a safe and supportive way, we encouraged school leaders to organize school-sponsored events/activities so students can express their opinions and ideas while remaining safely on school campuses. Students who walked out of their school buildings today for non-school-sponsored events will be marked absent. No additional disciplinary action will be taken.”

In New York, where the Department of Education decided not to mark students absent if they had parental permission, tens of thousands of young people attended the rally, at which international youth leader Greta Thunberg spoke.