Centre County is set to host one of the thousands of Global Climate Strike events planned across the world on Friday. The day of protest is set to include students walking out of class to participate.
The local Global Climate Strike will be held at noon and 5 p.m. Friday at the Allen Street Gates in downtown State College. Pam Steckler, State College resident and event organizer, said protesters will march to Old Main where students, faculty and community members will speak at 12:30 p.m. until 2 p.m. After the speeches, a tabling session will be held at the HUB from 2:30 to 5 p.m., with the Sierra Club Moshannon Group and Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition in attendance.
“This is the most important issue of our time,” Steckler said. “Folks need to get educated. We need immediate worldwide action.”
Inspired by the Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, the protests are part of what is predicted to be “the biggest day of climate action in the planet’s history,” where participants will demand action against climate change. But some local school districts will discipline students who participate during the day.
Citing their handbooks, both State College Area School District and Bellefonte Area School District officials said they plan to punish students who choose to walk out and partake in the climate strike.
SCASD Director of Communications Chris Rosenblum said a few State High students asked whether the district would sanction protest participation during the school day, but school administrators said no.
“They don’t know whether any students plan to participate anyway,” Rosenblum said. “If students cut class, walk out of a class or leave the school grounds, they will face consequences spelled out in the school handbook.”
Bellefonte High Principal Mike Fedisson said he wasn’t aware of any students planning to participate in the event but said school rules are the same if students do not have a lawful reason to miss class, citing board policy 204.
Students at Bellefonte may miss school for illness, quarantine, accident recover, a death in the family or emergencies, inclement weather or a board approved reason. Excuses must be submitted to the district in order to justify an absence.
Last year, Bellefonte punished students who walked out of class to join the March for Our Lives, a national movement held one moth after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Prior to the protest, students and parents were notified by the school, telling them that anyone who left school would be held accountable.
While SCASD and BASD plan to abide by district policies, Penns Valley Area School District said disciplinary action will be dependent on how students protest.
“If students choose to protest, our response is based on their actions,” said Penns Valley High School Principal Dustin Dalton. “We support our students in their efforts to positively impact their community and their world, while at the same time teaching them about positive ways to bring about change.”
For 17-year-old State High student Auden Yurman, however, disciplinary action, is nothing compared to the threat posed by climate change. Having received detention twice previously for skipping class, Yurman said Friday’s demonstration is a little different than previous protests, as students are planning to leave school grounds and march to the downtown rally. This, Yurman said, could result in more extreme disciplinary measures.
Representation from SCASD is expected to range between five to 20 students, Yurman said. While some participants have said their parents will be writing notes that excuse them for the day, Yurman said walking out without one is part of the experience and adds meaningfulness to the protest.
“For me personally, disciplinary action is not a deterrent,” Yurman said. “Part of civil disobedience is knowing that there will be repercussions. Especially for students like me, who are still too young to vote, walkouts and protests are a key way to make our voices heard.”
The impact of climate change is not lost on Yurman, who said its reach does not discriminate.
“Issues like climate change … impact youth as much or more as they do adults,” Yurman said. “But we don’t have the same ability to make direct change through things like elections or running for office, so I think it’s really important that we are vocal in the ways we can be.”
Recognizing school as an integral part of students’ everyday schedules, Yurman said walking out makes the issue harder to ignore.
“By skipping school, we’re showing how vitally important this issue is and how its outcome will impact our futures just as much as our educations will,” Yurman said.
With the United Nations Climate Summit happening on Monday, Steckler hopes this day of action will help show officials that climate change is a pressing issue that will affect people everywhere.
As of Thursday, 16-year-old Thunberg said there are 5,225 climate strikes planned in 156 countries.