Climate demonstrations: different consequences for schoolchildren

Climate demonstrations: different consequences for schoolchildren

When schoolchildren demonstrate for more climate protection during school hours, the consequences can be different, according to the verband bildung und erziehung (VBE – association for education and training).

"This actually varies from school to school. Some organize project days, others put up with absenteeism, and still others give reprimands, give detentions and have essays written," says VBE national chairman udo beckmann to the deutsche presse-agentur.

German states such as hesse, north rhine-westphalia, lower saxony and thuringia insist on compulsory school attendance in the conflict and regard participation in the climate demonstrations as unexcused absences. Compliance with compulsory school attendance is required by the state constitution, said NRW education minister yvonne gebauer (FDP). He says it is not permissible to decide whether lessons should be missed for a particular political goal. In bavaria, the ministry of the environment has scheduled two climate conferences with schools to mark the protests – the first of which was on friday. "This is an issue that requires pedagogical sensitivity. You have to take the schools seriously," says heinz-peter meidinger, president of the german teachers’ association (DL).

According to the VBE, teachers cannot suspend compulsory school attendance; this is the responsibility of the state education ministries. "That’s why the actions of politicians are putting teachers in a difficult position: while the politicians are united with the strikers, the teachers on the ground have to make up for the shortfall and think individually about how they want to deal with it," criticizes beckmann.

For months now, thousands of schools in germany have been taking to the streets on fridays for more climate protection, following the example of swedish activist greta thunberg. The 16-year-old and more than 10.000 more schools demonstrated in berlin on friday. They see themselves as part of the worldwide "fridays for future" protest movement.

Stephan wassmuth, chairman of the federal parents’ council, has not yet heard of any fines for truancy. In the case of a first offence, the first thing is a warning. No administrative fines will be imposed for absences from classes in baden-wurttemberg, according to the ministry of education in stuttgart. According to reports from schoolchildren in thuringia, individual teachers had demanded medical certificates from schoolchildren or threatened them with unscheduled tests, which resulted in a grade of six if they failed, according to the thuringian state parents’ association. Schoolchildren did not have the same right to strike as employees.

According to estimates by meidinger, between one and two percent of german schools demonstrated at the previous peak of the protest movement in mid march. "The schools that participate don’t necessarily do so every week. It’s such an interplay," he says. According to the report, he is not aware of any schools where hundreds of students were absent every friday. According to VBE chairman beckmann, there has never been a similar long-lasting protest movement by schoolchildren.

But how does the issue continue? Demonstrations during school hours no longer really needed to take place after the rough attention of the past few weeks, wassmuth thinks. Instead, the topic should be discussed more in school lessons. "If we now bring it into the schools even more as a teaching component, we will have made a rough profit," he says. This is a view shared by meidinger, who says that "by missing classes, the schoolchildren are also harming themselves."The ministry of education in lower saxony also wants to cooperate with the "fridays for future" initiative in order to illuminate the topic more deeply than before in the classroom.

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