Manitoba

Winnipeg School Division endorses global climate strike, dismisses claims it wasn't supportive of protest

Winnipeg's largest school division is publicly endorsing a major climate change demonstration on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature.

Division spokesperson says misunderstanding behind perception WSD wasn't supporting youth-led strike

A large crowd of climate activists is expected to gather at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday afternoon as part of an international protest against inaction. Here, climate activists protest in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Winnipeg's largest school division is publicly endorsing a major climate change demonstration on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature.

The announcement comes after students aired their concerns, including a letter to the Winnipeg School Division that called on the division to support the global strike on Friday. 

In an interview, WSD spokesperson Radean Carter said there's been a misunderstanding of the division's position.

"We've never really, at any point, said that we don't support this or we don't want students to be involved in this," Carter said, explaining that environmental issues are a significant part of school curriculums. 

'We hope' students can go: WSD

Thousands of Winnipeg teenagers are expected to walk out of class Friday afternoon as part of the global climate strike.

The international event is inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who became a renowned speaker after starting her own one-person climate protest with a school strike in 2018.

"It's definitely a big event. It's globally significant and we hope that our students and their parents can go," Carter said. 

"But we, of course, as an educator can't arrange to have supervision that would be required for our students to attend, because we do also have students who don't want to attend and who should still have the right to have class."

The division's news release calls the climate strike an "excellent platform for discussion and learning" for children and adults.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, gives an impassioned address to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month. She has inspired a youth-led global strike. (Jason DeCrow/The Associated Press)

The statement adds that students can attend the protest, but their parents must inform their child's school of their participation.

"WSD board of trustees and administration hope many of our parents and students are able to take part in this life-changing and globally significant event," the news release says.

Carter said missed classes will count as an absence on student records, but it shouldn't be perceived as a punishment.

"We need to have the excused absence on file so that we know that the students are safe," she said.

Grade 11 student Cole Osiowy has said the Winnipeg School Division isn’t making it easy for students to take part in Friday’s protest. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Grant Park High School student Cole Osiowy had argued the division wasn't doing enough to support the protest.

"I think they could do more," the Grade 11 student told CBC News earlier this week. "In their letter, they said they support youth activism. But this doesn't really look like supporting youth activism."  

The students' letter references other divisions that they feel have stepped up, such as the largest school board in Quebec, which cancelled classes on Friday.

Carter said the Winnipeg School Division hasn't been outwardly public of its support for the climate strike, since they weren't organizing it and the protest was student-led.

"We were sort of taking a backseat and letting it happen," she said.

"This is about students having a voice and doing their thing, and it's not about Winnipeg School Division doing something that we're taking the kids to."

The Winnipeg Police Service warns of delays near the Manitoba Legislature because of the protest, along Broadway Avenue and neighbouring cross streets. 

Transit buses will be rerouted around the area, police said, and riders are encouraged to check the Winnipeg Transit schedule before travelling.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Emily Brass

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