When Seattle Public Schools drew criticism for not giving students excused absences if they miss class to participate in Friday morning’s Global Climate Strike, superintendent Denise Juneau said state law regarding attendance was a prohibiting factor.

Turns out, that’s not true.

“There is nothing in state law that would prohibit them from excusing this,” said Krissy Johnson, the state education department’s lead attendance-program supervisor, echoing an email superintendent Chris Reykdal sent to district leaders statewide Thursday morning. 

When asked via email if the district had a response to this information, Seattle Public Schools spokesman Tim Robinson replied, “no.”

While the state does maintain a list of situations in which absences should be excused, the law also allows school boards to set their own policies in situations that aren’t on that list. Seattle School Board policy, according to the district’s interpretation, doesn’t excuse students’ absences for protests or walkouts.

Johnson said it’s understandable that someone reading quickly could look at the list of state-defined excused absences and gloss over the flexibility written into the law.

The Global Climate Strike, a worldwide youth-led action to call attention to the climate crisis, is expected to attract hundreds or perhaps thousands of students and their families to events and marches around the state.

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At Wednesday night’s School Board meeting, members of Juneau’s student advisory board presented a letter imploring district leaders to reconsider.

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“The things we will learn in school will be of no use when we are fighting for our lives and [for] clean air and water,” said Angelina Riley, a Rainier Beach High School student, reading the letter to School Board members at the meeting. (Riley also served as this week’s student representative on the Board, a nonvoting position filled by a different student each week.)

The letter came as part of a public pressure campaign this week from students, the city teachers union and the Seattle City Council.

The district’s assumption about state policy may have also swayed School Board members from taking any formal vote to respond to the demands.

School Board member Zachary DeWolf said Thursday that he presented a draft resolution over the weekend that would have called for excusing absences for the climate Strike. It “began to lose its teeth” because “the district wasn’t comfortable with” the legal and policy implications of doing so, he wrote via text. He also said there wouldn’t have been enough time to fully consider and finalize the resolution before they would have had to introduce and vote on it.

At Wednesday’s meeting, School Board president Leslie Harris expressed her personal support for students protesting on Friday but added that she had to uphold her oath to follow the law.

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She also fired back at pressure from the Seattle City Council.

“I’m frankly a little resentful that the same City Council that has not made very much progress on homelessness is telling us what to do,” Harris said. “There is a lack of respect there for this Board and for this district.”

DeWolf said a “Green Resolution” will be introduced this fall that addresses environmental sustainability at the school district.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday issued a statement encouraging educators to support students’ participation in the Global Climate Strike. “If I had the authority to excuse students from school to participate in this Global Climate Strike, I would grant it,” Inslee said.