Calgary Board of Education bars elementary student climate change protest
Liv Barton, 10, rallied students for strike when told demonstration not allowed
As young people across Canada readied to walk out of school and take part in the Global Climate Strike on Friday, one Calgary student was told that she couldn't.
Liv Barton is a 10-year-old student at Sunalta School who says she planned a walk out to support teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg's climate strike.
She even captured the enthusiasm of her classmates with a speech she wrote and presented to them, and had begun to organize their support.
"I'm a kid and I really care, because it's my future and it's my planet's future," Barton said.
"I had a strike planned … so that we would all go outside for an hour and make some signs, and kind of walk around a bit, and just do the best we can to make a difference."
Protests demanding action on climate change are taking place around the country Friday, with hundreds of thousands of people — including the Swedish activist leader, Thunberg — expected to march through the streets of Montreal.
In Calgary, hundreds of students from the University of Calgary are expected to walk out of classes around 10:30 a.m. At noon, Fridays for Future has called on all school and post-secondary students to rally in a climate strike scheduled for noon at City Hall.
Barton says she wanted students at Sunalta School to walk out at 10 a.m. on Friday.
She had the nearly unanimous support from her teachers, she says, but was told she had to convince her principal, who had to convince her own superiors.
The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) decided instead to ban all "big talk" about climate action and climate change, Barton says.
"We weren't allowed to do strikes, we weren't allowed to do big speeches at assemblies," Barton said. "We were allowed to make announcements for something away from school."
It was a decision, Barton said, that was very disappointing.
"It was my first idea, and I was really hoping that it would work."
In an email to the CBC, a media representative for the school board said that Barton's strike was "not a CBE event and as such, we are not promoting it."
"It is a regular school day and students are expected to be in class unless excused by a parent or guardian," the email read.
"We anticipate that student learning will continue as scheduled that day regardless of this event. We will not prevent our students from leaving class during this time; however, any students who were not present in class will be marked as an unexcused absence."
Barton's mother, Pil Hansen, says she was surprised and disappointed by the CBE's decision.
"It was a big initiative for her. She talked to friends in the neighbourhood, from school, that were really keen and interested," Hansen said.
"I have to admit that I came home from the meeting with the principal and the teacher in tears, because of the disempowerment I knew she was going to experience."
The school principal, Barton told CBC, helped her with some other options — including the creation of a climate action club that Barton will lead.
But Barton remains disappointed with the school board.
So her mother will be signing her out of class so she can strike, even if it means going it alone.
"I am proud of her in the sense of her initiative, and I'm proud of her for not giving up when she meets resistance," Hansen said.
As for Barton's future in climate change activism, she says this setback hasn't discouraged her.
"Lots of people in our school really want to join the eco club, and now there are communities that want to hear me talk about my experience," Barton said.
"It just feels like I got even more than I would have if they'd just let me do what I wanted," Barton said.
With files from Erin Collins