Students Miss Class to Join Climate Rally at Supreme Court

An environmental rally in front of the Supreme Court. Photos by Kaiden J. Yu.

At about 8:35 a.m. on Feb. 28, 14 students left GDS with posters to Metro to the Supreme Court, which was hearing an argument in a case related to the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An environmentalist group, the National Resource Defense Council, had organized a climate rally.

Those who chose to attend would miss their first-period classes. The school did not sponsor the outing, but its official Instagram page later publicized it.

While students at GDS were in first period and advisory conversations about minimester, those who went to the rally listened to several speakers on the steps of the Supreme Court. They returned to GDS ten minutes into third period due to Metro issues. Senior Annabel Williams, an Enviro Club head, said there was a large crowd including a wide range of ages.

“There were a lot of people out,” sophomore Talia Berger, one of the students who attended the demonstration, said. “Everyone was out for a really good cause.”

GDS students who attended the event pose for a photo.

Four students who went told the Bit they were proud of how the rally went. “It is a very monumental case,” Williams said, “so I’m glad that I got to be there to show my support.”

The case being argued, West Virginia v. EPA, was a challenge to the Clean Air Act, a federal law that enables the EPA to regulate air pollutants.

Two of the speakers were a mother and her son, junior Asha Adiga-Biro told the Bit. She said the young boy talked about climate change and protecting polar bears. “For these kids, it is the earth we are giving them and the animals they love so deeply that are in harm’s way,” Adiga-Biro said.

The week before the event, Assistant Principal for School Life Quinn Killy responded to an announcement email from the Enviro Club, saying that the school would not provide supervision or transportation. He also encouraged students to talk to their parents before attending.

Killy said in an interview with the Bit that he has sent a similar message before other events that took place during the school day and wanted students to be aware of GDS’ absence policy, which requires parents to enter students’ absences in the app SchoolPass. “We want to be supportive of kids being active in civic engagement,” Killy added.

The night before the rally, the Student Action Committee (SAC), a student-led advocacy group, sent an all-school email urging students to attend.

At first, Adiga-Biro did not plan on attending, but she said the SAC’s email persuaded her to go. (Adiga-Biro is a co-head of the SAC’s Environmental Task Force.) “I felt obliged to go, because it’s my role as a student to fight for the environment.” She added, “This is kind of what GDS instills in our head: to fight for what you believe in.”

A child speaks at the climate rally.

After the rally, GDS’ Instagram account posted photos of the students, saying, “GDS Enviro Club takes the climate fight to the Supreme Court.” It noted that students had planned their absences from class.

Sophomore Max Froomkin, who did not attend, said in an interview that the GDS Instagram post was “ironic” because it seemed to be taking credit for the protest after Killy’s email stated that the students’ trip was not sponsored by GDS.

Freshman Natalia Stutman-Shaw told the Bit, “It was really weird that they would publicize something, especially after not endorsing it.”

Storyteller Danny Stock, who made the school’s Instagram post, said in an emailed statement to the Bit that “students were not discouraged from attending” the rally during the school day.

“From time to time,” Stock wrote, “the School celebrates the efforts of groups of students (and staff) in the broader community—in this case, students who are also members of SAC and/or Enviro Club—on their leadership, advocacy, service, success, and more.”

Protestors held signs as the Supreme Court heard arguments in West Virginia v. EPA.

All three students who spoke with the Bit and missed their first-period classes for the rally said their teachers understood their decision to go.

Adiga-Biro’s English teacher, Nadia Mahdi, said that, “while I believe that my mission as a teacher is to teach kids in a classroom,” she also believes in teaching her students to follow their moral consciences, even if that means missing class to attend a rally.