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Vancouver, Surrey students free to skip class for climate strike with parents’ permission

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Thousands of people are expected to descend on downtown Vancouver on Friday as activists in cities around the world mark another Global Climate Strike.

Those numbers will likely be bolstered by policies from the region’s two largest school districts, Vancouver and Surrey, which say they’ll let students miss class for the event with parental permission.

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The two districts represent about 130,000 students in total.

Vancouver Sustainabiliteens organizer Samantha Lin said she’s hoping to see 15,000 or more people turn out to Vancouver City Hall at 1 p.m. for the rally and march across the Cambie Street Bridge.

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But she said organizers have been impressed to see municipalities, school boards and unions backing them.

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“We weren’t really expecting the amount of support we would get, but it’s not really a surprise to us after over four million people came out to the strikes the previous Friday internationally,” she said.

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Organizer Naia Lee said Friday’s strike is an opportunity for young people to have a voice about an issue they feel will have a powerful impact on their lives.

“There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with the climate crisis and climate change,” she said.

“I would just ask to those people to show up for the strikes, to learn more about them and to educate themselves about the climate crisis.”

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In a letter to parents last week, Surrey School Superintendent Jordan Tinny said students who wish to participate should consult with their teachers about missing school, and that with parents’ permission they would be marked as “excused.”

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Tinny said those students would be allowed to make up any missed work without penalty.

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“We encourage you to discuss this topic and this global movement with your children. Climate change is real and is a critical issue for our future,” he wrote.

“This letter is to ensure that parents are informed and to know that we want to place the responsibility for a decision to participate or not in these rallies where it belongs, which is in the hands of our parents with their children.”

The Vancouver School Board voted Monday to excuse students who wish to participate. High school students will require written permission, while elementary school students must be accompanied by a parent.

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Other large school districts such as Burnaby and Coquitlam have not explicitly said students will be allowed to attend the strike, but have affirmed to parents that students may be excused from class, as on any other day, with parental permission and with no penalty.

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Emily Carr University and the Vancouver Film School have cancelled classes for the strike, and several major retailers, including Mountain Equipment Co-Op and Lush Cosmetics, are shutting down Canadian operations.

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Friday’s strikes across Canada are timed to coordinate with the arrival of Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg in Montreal.

Lin and Lee say they’re hoping to see Friday’s events mark the largest protest in Canadian history.

“I think that no matter what happens it’s going to be an excellent turnout,” said Lin. “There’s been lots of support offered to us from the businesses, the school boards, different municipalities from around Metro Vancouver, so the word is out there.”

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“It’s just a matter of channeling that energy into action now,” added Lee.

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