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Activists also want school district to create panel to oversee climate curriculum

Jackson Calhoun, a sophomore at Rex Putnam High School, led a group of students in dropping off a letter Sept. 3 demanding that North Clackamas School District officials not interfere in their participation in a Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20.

North Clackamas Superintendent Matt Utterback told the students that the district was generally supportive of students' ability to participate in speaking out publicly. Participating students plan to hold a brief rally at Rex Putnam on the morning of Sept. 20, then some of the students will travel to downtown Portland to add their presence to a larger rally.

Calhoun — along with classmates Finn Jacobson, Tori Smith-Fleek, Lucy Hisey and Megan Grimsrud — signed a letter to Utterback asking that the district's Student Demonstrations and Petitions Policy be extended to attend the Portland rally.

"This event represents engagement with environmental science, citizen participation in democracy, and a commitment to the future: all part of a worthy education," the students wrote. "All schools should be given clear, consistent guidelines for how they should respond to students participating in the strike in ways that do not penalize or inhibit participation."

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Local climate change activists join students from Rex Putnam High School in a Sept. 3 rally outside of the North Clackamas School District headquarters in Milwaukie.Students are hoping no tests will be scheduled for Sept. 20, and North Clackamas teachers will provide an opportunity for youth to make up missed material without penalty.

"Athletes should not be penalized in practices or competition for an unexcused absence relating to the strike," the students wrote.

In a Sept. 6 response letter, Utterback said that the district is legally responsible to mark students absent and to inform parents if the students leave campus.

"We will not mark students absent for the school-based rally," Utterback wrote. "We support our students that choose to participate as well as those who do not."

PMG PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - North Clackamas School District Superintendent Matt Utterback addresses students during the Sept. 3 rally.Calhoun said he was disappointed that students would have to obtain parental permission in order to attend the Portland rally without penalty, but he said he understood the district's reasoning and legal obligations.

"One improvement that came out of this is regarding outreach in schools," he said. "Before I wasn't sure if the principal would let us do outreach at our school, but now it seems more likely."

Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, who was in attendance at the Sept. 3 student rally, signed a resolution passed by City Council that evening supporting the students' participation in the climate strike.

"We encourage business owners and residents to join students in participating," read the resolution passed by Milwaukie's elected officials. "Residents of Milwaukie have expressed their support for clear and decisive action to meaningfully act against climate change through the community's Climate Action Plan."

The student activists want the district to create a Student Committee on the Climate Crisis to oversee "the district's transition to completely sustainable schools and the creation and implementation of the climate justice curriculum." This might have adult advisers, as the students envision the committee, but must be "given real power" in these transitions.

"If something requires school board approval, student voices must play a powerful role in the decision," the students wrote. "We have reached a tipping point. This is a crisis. We only have a few years before climate change becomes irreversible."

Utterback's response included support for getting student activists involved in the district's advisory committees, noting that sustainability is a component of a $433 million capital construction bond allocating over $2 million in solar-panel installations. 

"Currently, the new science adoption in high schools includes curriculum on climate change and there is continued work to include this work into the new social studies curriculum adoption," Utterback wrote. "We look forward to connecting the North Clackamas Climate Strike Youth Coalition to our district Middle School and High School Student Advisories to work on issues of climate change together."

Schools from North Clackamas will join this global movement calling for the end of the age of fossil fuels in a movement originating from Greta Thunberg's Fridays for the Future strikes. Inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, students have been leaving their classes and take part in demonstrations to demand action from leaders. The strikes have grown globally over the past year, including widespread participation this past March, when over 2,000 students mobilized and demanded action from the city of Portland.


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