Students plan climate change rally Friday; protests next week aim to ‘shut down DC’

Greta Thunberg
Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, center in blue, joins other young climate activists Friday for a climate strike outside the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

With action around climate change planned for Friday and next week, here’s what the D.C. area can expect, in terms of traffic and responses from local school systems.

On Friday, a White House rally on climate change during school hours could see local students walk out of class. The D.C. Youth Climate Strike, which also includes a planned march to the U.S. Capitol, comes ahead of even more dramatic protests scheduled for Monday.

That’s when “climate rebels” say they plan to “shut down D.C.” by blocking more than a dozen intersections and other city infrastructure. The aim of that protest is “to stop business-as-usual, bringing the whole city to a gridlocked standstill,” the group said on its website.


WATCH LIVE at 11 a.m.: Climate protests come to Washington


What area school systems are saying

School systems in the D.C. area contacted by WTOP said students who walk out of class to take part in Friday’s rally — without a note from their parents — will be marked down with an unexcused absence.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, a school spokeswoman said students who want to engage in the civic process during school hours should do so at school.

“Leaving school property not only disrupts instruction for other students, it poses a significant safety risk,” county school spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said in a statement. Leaving school without permission or walking out of class will be considered an unexcused absence.

The school system’s statement comes after Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich had written to school officials urging them to grant excused absences for the protest, Bethesda Beat reported. In New York City, where rallies are also planned Friday, school officials announced they are granting students who participate excused absences.

Prince George’s County said walkout-related absences Friday will be considered unexcused, school spokeswoman Raven Hill said.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, students will receive an unexcused absence unless their parents fill out the required attendance form for a “prearranged absence” ahead of time.

In a statement, Fairfax County Public Schools spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said the school system is “not opposing, nor endorsing, any of the calls to action in response to these events. School staff also should not be encouraging, or discouraging, student participation. Students have the right to participate as long as their activities do not disrupt the instructional day.”

In D.C., students who walk out of classes Friday for the rally have five school days to bring a note from their parents, or their absence Friday will considered unexcused, according to school spokesman Shayne Wells.

The policy for Friday’s climate change demonstration is similar to how schools handled walkouts and protests for gun control in 2018.

What could be in store next week

The youth rally and march on Friday is a preamble to potentially more disruptive protests planned for Monday.

Activists with the Shut Down D.C. Strike Coalition said they plan to block more than a dozen “key intersections” across D.C. as part of an effort to pressure policymakers to take action on climate change, according to the group’s website.

The traffic disruptions will be focused “within a central portion of D.C. where corporate and government power holders who are blocking serious action on climate are located,” the group added on its website.

D.C. police spokeswoman Alaina Gertz declined to discuss how authorities are preparing for the planned disruptions but said the department is “equipped to handle First Amendment assemblies of any stature.”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.


Watch a recent report on the planned action from WTOP’s news partner, NBC Washington:

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