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Quebec’s largest school board takes the lead and cancels classes for Sept. 27 climate march

Students and staff from Commission scolaire de Montreal (CSDM).
Students and staff from Commission scolaire de Montreal (CSDM). Anne Leclair

This story has been updated to reflect a press release issued by Lester B. Pearson School Board on Wednesday, September 18.

The province’s largest school board announced on Tuesday that it will be cancelling classes for all students in elementary and high schools on Sept. 27 and turning it into a pedagogical (PED) day for the climate march.

It’s a move the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) adopted after dealing with massive absenteeism during weekly student marches last school year.

“We chose for Sept. 27 to have a PED day,” said school board president Catherine Harel-Bourdon. “We ask parents in a letter that’s going to be sent to have some discussions with their children.”

While she wouldn’t go as far as saying the school board is encouraging students to attend the march, Harel-Bourdon wants it to be a decision made by students and their parents. “They’re going to be under the responsibility of their parents that day,” she said.

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One of the Montreal climate march’s organizers was on hand for the CSDM announcement and encourages others to follow in their footsteps.

“We hope that school boards all across Quebec will join that important date, it’s a worldwide strike on the 27th,” said François Geoffroy of the group La planète s’invite au parlement. “There are protests all over Quebec that day.”

He’s convinced that environmental activists Greta Thunberg’s presence at Montreal’s march will attract a record number of students this time around. “Of course it helps,” Geoffroy said.

September 27 was  was already designated as a pedagogical day on the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s calendar for elementary and high school students. However in a press release issued Wednesday, the school board also noted that vocational training centres will be open.

READ MORE: Quebec students take to streets as part of global marches against climate change

However, the province’s largest English school board will be open. The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has decided to let parents make the call but it will be business as usual in classrooms.

“This rally will take place during our regular school hours and this event is not an activity supervised by the school, thus we cannot release our students,” said EMSB director general Ann Marie Matheson in a statement. The EMSB won’t stop students from attending the march but those who chose to will need to provide written authorization from their parents.

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The Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (CSMB) informed parents on Tuesday that unlike other school boards they will not be giving students the day off. “Despite the importance that the CSMB places on the climate change fight, we cannot liberate the students of their obligation to be present in class,” said the school board in a letter to parents.

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Greta Thunberg joins student demonstrators outside White House to protest climate change inaction
Greta Thunberg joins student demonstrators outside White House to protest climate change inaction

Concordia University is cancelling classes for the afternoon on Sept. 27. Some CEGEP teachers unions across the province have also voted to strike on that day, but the CSDM insists their teachers will have to show up to work that day.

“Teachers have to be at school during the day but if they ask for time off in the afternoon we are going to see if we can accommodate,” Harel-Bourdon said.

One CSDM student who attends Louis-Joseph Papineau high school in St-Michel said he wasn’t planning to go to the march until his school board turned it into a PED day.

“I’m happy that there is no school,” said 16-year-old Dieujuste Fadner-Richardson. “When you know you’re going to be with a lot of people you know that something will change.”