OPRF students walk out to protest climate change

Middle-school students also plan rally as part of Global Climate Strike demonstrations

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Roughly 150 Oak Park and River Forest High School students peacefully walked out of classes on Sept. 20, joining millions of students around the world for what's being billed a Global Climate Strike. 

The demonstration started at around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, with students exiting the school on Scoville Avenue, marching to the Ridgeland Avenue Green Line station and taking the train to Grant Park in Chicago, where a much larger demonstration was held at 11 a.m. 

The student demonstrators interviewed on Friday morning all expressed alarm about the planet's future. Many students reinforced their concerns with lessons they've learned in school. For them, climate change is no longer a scientific abstraction. 

"I don't want to die," said Lucy Kallista, a 16-year-old junior at OPRF, when asked why she was participating in the march. 

"We talk about this all the time," said her friend, junior Maeve Powers, 16. The two teenagers walked down Lake Street toward the Green Line with signs claiming "Denial is deadly, Climate crisis is real — Not a liberal conspiracy!" and "We will go to school if you keep the climate cool." 

"If nothing gets done, then the world is a going to get a little too hot for humans, and animals are already dying," Kallista said. "The Great Barrier Reef is being wiped out because of climate change. Coral is getting bleached because of the warming of the oceans. I learned that in geoscience." 

Junior Astrid Brunk, 16, walked down Lake Street with a sign that read: "This can't wait until I finish school. Read: If you can't act like adults we will." 

"There's evidence that the globe is warming," Brunk said. "It's warmed like three degrees, which is huge. If people don't do something right now, we won't have time and our generation will be struggling to find resources for our children." 

On Sept. 12, District 200 Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams emailed a letter to families in anticipation of the planned walkout. 

"To allow students to have a voice on an issue that is important to them, we will not issue disciplinary consequences for students who participate, as long as they exit the building in an orderly and peaceful manner," Pruitt-Adams stated. 

The superintendent said that teachers would not mark as absent any students present when attendance was taken Friday morning. Any student who was absent for the day or during individual periods and whose absence wasn't called in by a parent or guardian was given an unexcused absence. School safety personnel accompanied students to the Green Line Friday morning. 

District 200 officials said that there were 740 students absent on the day of the walkout, compared to 453 students who were absent the previous Friday. It's not clear if the spike in absences was due to the walkout.

Later in the day, several hundred Brooks middle schoolers converged on the field outside of their school for a rally led by members of the Eco Eagles ecology club at Brooks. 

Elizabeth Burnett walked all the way from nearby Maywood to join the students during the Global Climate Strike. 

"It's a sad day when the kids are the only adults in the room," she said. "They won't be able to thrive on this planet and we've created it for them. They have the most to lose. People my age will be dead or at least too old to care by then."

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

Reader Comments

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Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 25th, 2019 1:33 AM

@Brian, that's actually incorrect. The school can consider an out of area application but are obligated to serve the community first. If classes are full, for example, they can turn the student away. That was a clever attempt to help your pal out though. I would post more but I am busy posting in Naperville's online community news site right now.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 5:30 PM

@ Jason Cohen: Rob Ruffulo who is not living in Oak Park can send his kids to a public school in Oak Park by simply declaring the student to be out of district and paying the tuition. Literally.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 2:25 PM

@Rob, you literally can't send kids to our schools because you don't actually live here. You must live a pretty boring existence if you have nothing better to do than to troll a very small online news site for a community you don't even live in. It's also funny you attack someone else for sharing their opinion about your posting here by saying you should be allowed to share your opinion here. It's clear your real gripe has nothing to do with kids deciding to miss part of a school day to protest something they care about but it's the actual thing they are protesting you don't like. I bet if a bunch of kids wanted to go to a Trump rally you would be happy to support that. There's literally no material impact to having some kids miss a bit of school a couple of times per year so who cares if they want to go. It's not hurting anyone and I guarantee they learn something meaningful even if you don't like it.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: September 24th, 2019 1:44 PM

I would be embarrassed to live in that liberal town and would never send any of my kids (or anyone I know ) to that building . (I cant call it a school) Not that it is nay of yous or anybody's business, however, many friends live in that area (sadly). I thought we all had a right to our opinion? Oh, thats right, unless it does not agree with yours. Dont worry about me, worry about the issues in your own backyard. This forum is not toi attack other people like me, get over yourself.

Mark Glenn  

Posted: September 23rd, 2019 5:37 PM

@Rob Ruffalo ... out of curiousity; since you are constantly posting on this site and you don't actually live in Oak Park or River Forest -- what is your obsession and obvious jealousy for all things Oak Park and OPRF?? You spend an incredible amount of time on this site poring over the articles and comments to find something that triggers your mania for our community and our kids. Just clue everybody in as to what is occurring in your existence that you have the time and compulsion to spend so much time wringing your hands over a community with which you have no affiliation.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: September 23rd, 2019 4:47 PM

Our teachers mission statement should be to teach the kids HOW TO THINK not WHAT TO THINK

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: September 23rd, 2019 7:10 AM

Great point Ramona. Another school sponsored field trip. Are the teachers still getting paid for the time the "Students" are on vacation?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: September 22nd, 2019 6:53 PM

Clearly, these protests are scheduled on weekdays (not in the summer) on a school day so organizers have a captive audience of kids who would rather hang out downtown than go to class. God knows the attendance would be dismal if it was on a Saturday morning at 9am. That would actually demonstrate who is truly committed to the cause when attendees would have to sacrifice their own personal time.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: September 22nd, 2019 4:07 PM

This is ANOTHER total joke from OPRF schools. Why can't they protest on weekends ?? NO guts from administration as usual, Live in fear. Also, very respectful by the liberal media, journal, to show a picture of someone using vulgar language regarding our president. Typical democrats.

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