WASHINGTON D.C. – nearly 400 MCPS students marched out of school on Sept. 20, chanting and waving signs bearing messages such as “There is No Planet B” and “We Are Skipping Our Lessons to Teach You One”.
They filed onto the Friday morning metro heading into D.C. to join the millions of students marching in solidarity all around the world to protest government inaction against climate change.
Eleanor Clemans-Cope, a founding member of the student-led advocacy organization MOCO on Climate, said, “It was a really powerful event, we had thousands of people there to demand climate action, and the reason why it was so powerful was that it was collective action. The only way we’re going to be able to effectively fight for our future is if we all come together and pressure our governments and corporations to do something substantive.”
Collectively inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old climate activist from Sweden whose weekly solitary climate strikes in Stockholm have ignited a movement of global protests, over four million students flooded the streets of major cities on Friday to demand accountability and effective climate change policy from the governing bodies in power.
Connor Palansky, a sophomore at Richard Montgomery High School who attended the march, said, “It was powerful to be swept up by the general raw emotion of the march – the idea that we won’t be around forever and if we’re not careful, the world won’t be either.”
Riding a wave of calls for change, Montgomery County youths have taken local initiative as well. On Sept. 27, members of MOCO on Climate gathered in front of the Carver Educational Services centers – MCPS Board of Education headquarters – to pressure the county to greater emphasize climate change reform within the school district.
They have established an online petition that has garnered over 600 signatures from students, parents, and educators across the county, pushing for MCPS to make several changes: switching to electric buses, prohibiting new school buildings from contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and forming a joint student-faculty group to suggest “low greenhouse gas lifestyle” policies to the district.
In the wake of MCPS’ growing student fervor for participation in activism, a concern that has arisen is the consequences of missing school.
Student activists and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich have urged the school board to excuse absences for attending the Sept. 20 rally, but MCPS has held firm on policy, stating that such absences “pose a significant safety risk”.
In January, the Board also shut down a proposal that would have allowed students three unexcused absences per year to participate in protests.
Clemans-Cope said, “The Board of Education, as of now, is not allowing us to fight for ourselves. If they are not going to step up and take the actions that we’re asking them to take – to cut their own carbon emissions, to give us education about the climate crisis, to demand that our government do better – then they have to let us fight for ourselves.”