The below is an open letter from me to the headteachers, principles, and school leaders in the UK regarding the Global Climate Strike taking place on Friday 20th September. It is an adapted version of Global Climate Strike Norfolk’s open letter to headteachers of schools in Norfolk, UK.
Dear Head Teachers and Principles,
I am a former Geography high-school teacher, and an active supporter of the voices and rights of our young people. I am writing to ask you to support the climate and environmental activism of your students by refraining from taking any disciplinary action if students decide to participate in the ‘Fridays for Future’ and ‘Global Climate Strike’ protests. I also encourage you warmly to facilitate your students’ participation in these urgently needed protests.
The ‘1.5 degree special report’ by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that humans have already caused irreversible climate change, and that only immediate decisive action may still limit temperature rises to 1.5°C. The ‘biodiversity and ecosystem services report’ by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) leaves no doubt that we have no time to lose if we want to preserve this planet for current and future generations.
Young people who are part of the ‘Fridays for Future‘ and ‘School Strike’ movement have played a crucial role in drawing much-needed public attention to the climate and biodiversity emergencies, and in demanding governments around the world to step up their responses to these enormous threats.
On the 20th September, the UK Student Climate Network invites young people and adults alike to join a Global Climate Strike to demand that the Government declares a climate emergency and implements a Green New Deal to achieve Climate Justice, that the national curriculum is reformed to address the ecological crisis as an educational priority, that the Government communicates the severity of the ecological crisis and the necessity to act now to the general public, and that the Government recognises that young people have the biggest stake in our future, by incorporating youth views into policy making and bringing the voting age down to 16. (Link)
We all hold dear the democratic right to peaceful protest. Young people in particular must not be deprived of this right given that it is their future that is at stake. They will have to pay the price if those in position of authority today fail to act now. All schools teach about the importance of democracy and free-speech, and through various curriculum subjects and activities, students learn about human rights movements, protests and pressure campaigns which have shaped our society for the better. Schools have no issue in promoting and celebrating a democracy which allows its citizens these freedoms. Your students wish to exercise those rights that they have been taught are important. To me, schools will be ‘practising what they preach’ by allowing their students to express their voice and concerns peaceful and democratic fashion. In my opinion, a school which does not allow for this freedom, or punishes those that participate in the strike, undermine everything that that school teaches about democracy and freedom of speech.
From my experience as a teacher, and having the fortune to have kept in touch with many ex-students, it is exceptionally clear to me that the level of care and compassion they experience during school continues to resonate with them into adulthood. ‘Climate anxiety’ (or ‘eco-anxiety’) can be mitigated and alleviated by supporting and empowering students who wish to take action. Your support would be compatible with your ‘duty of care’ obligations.
Schools can authorise a child’s absence if it is due to ‘exceptional circumstances’. It is clear through the language being used by scientists and expert commentators regarding the climate emergency that this more than qualifies as an ‘exceptional circumstance’.
For the reasons above, I therefore urge you to allow your students to exercise their right to protest the formidable threats posed by the climate and biodiversity emergency and continued government failure to address them.
Mx Kit Rackley