Students from Minneapolis’ PYC Arts & Technology High School poured out of school at 11 a.m. Friday to mark the final day of a weeklong global movement calling on government and corporate leaders to take action around climate change.
Nearly 50 students and staff from the alternative high school in north Minneapolis marched to Minneapolis School District headquarters, chanting and carrying signs that read “The climate is changing, why aren’t we?” and “Green jobs not jails.”
Friday’s protest was partly inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The teenager has been leading weekly demonstrations under the slogan “Fridays for Future” over the past year.
This week, global leaders gathered in New York to unveil their climate plans at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
Students met with Superintendent Ed Graff and demanded that he implement climate-change curricula in every school and in every grade level by next school year. They said climate change “is having direct and indirect impact” on their health, pointing to the extreme weather conditions everywhere and to factories on the North Side that they say are polluting the air and causing illnesses.
“We can’t wait any longer to act,” Jalen Barnes, a senior at PYC and one of the event’s lead organizers, told Graff, adding, “Can we count on you?”
Barnes, 17, said his school doesn’t have any formal lessons on climate change. As he was addressing Graff, some of his peers peppered Graff with questions following Barnes’ remarks.
“What are you going to do now?” one student blurted out.
Graff and the district’s science content specialist, Jenn Rose, thanked the students for coming out and speaking out. Graff then reminded them of the district’s policies on students leaving school to participate in protests. Minneapolis students who leave school to join a protest are barred from returning to class for that day and are not allowed to participate in any after-school activities — including football games or homecoming events — happening on the same day as the protest.
Climate change, Graff told the students, is a subject that’s already being taught in Minneapolis schools.
“We have practices we are doing right now that will support your concerns around climate change,” Graff said, referring to courses such as social studies and science and the district’s recycling program.
“All of those things are essential to the conversation about climate change,” he said, adding that the topic was bigger than just a conversation between him and the students and that it’s a global concern.
Graff, who said he was committed to making sure that students had that global understanding of climate change, said his responsibility was to show students resources that would help them address the issues they care about.
Rose appeared to rub students the wrong way when she said: “It’s really hard to have a protest or for people to take you seriously if you don’t understand what climate is.”
Many students who attended the meeting left feeling disappointed and some even questioned out loud the purpose of leaving school to face district leaders who some said didn’t fully grasp their concerns.
PYC school leaders, who refused to be identified, said the event was not a walkout but rather a school-sponsored field trip, which they said students had been planning for weeks. The field trip, they said, was tied to a schoolwide geography class.