Philly students won’t be punished for climate strike walkout, school district says in 180-degree flip

Kids will need parents’ permission to earn the excused absence.

Masterman High School seniors Iman Acharya and Alina Kilcullen cheer speakers at a climate strike in September

Jonathan Wilson for WHYY

The School District of Philadelphia is changing its tune on students who walk out to participate in climate change protests.

Superintendent Dr. William Hite on Tuesday issued a letter informing families that kids who miss school for these rallies may be granted an excused absence, one that won’t incur penalties — as long as parents are on board. The note comes ahead of a youth-led action planned for Friday.

“If you would like to permit your child to participate in an off-campus climate strike event,” Hite wrote, “please contact your child’s school and provide written consent in accordance with that school’s principal’s absence consent directions.”

Abby Leedy, a 2019 Central High School graduate and local strike co-organizer, said the movement was glad to see the district “take a step in the right direction.”

Leedy said she was uncertain if everyone had been notified about the new policy. “I’ve heard from former classmates and current students on our organizing team that they have not seen this letter passed out in schools,” she said, “and that their parents have not received it.”

According to a district spokesperson, Hite’s letter was sent on Monday to school principals, who were directed to send it home with students. Some schools disseminated the letter electronically, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson could not say why some students and families might not have received the notice.

The new stance represents a 180-degree turnaround. In September, Philly schools doled out unexcused absence demerits to students who participated in the global climate change strike organized by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg. That stood in contrast with NYC, where 1.1 million public school students were excused.

Organizers with Pennsylanvia’s Youth Climate Lobby urged the district to reconsider, saying the move “illustrate[d] ignorance and apathy towards the students’ wellbeing.”

In Philadelphia, a student is considered truant if they miss three days of school. After six unexcused absences, students are considered “habitually truant,” which may trigger a legal citation against a student’s guardian.

The district’s new policy does require parental consent to walk out, or else students will earn an unexcused absence.

Friday’s climate strike is being organized by the Philly Youth Climate Strike Coalition and is set to begin at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6 at Thomas Paine Plaza.