Young people have been camping out – day and night – in front of the main station and the town hall in Cologne in a protest against climate change before the summer break starts in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
But pupils who miss school due to the protests could face serious consequences.
When approached by the Rheinishe Post newspaper, the NRW education ministry pointed out that school attendance was compulsory even in the last week before the summer holidays.
“Participation in student strikes during school hours must not be at the expense of school attendance and is therefore inadmissible,” the ministry said.
Der erste Streiktag in Köln ist gefüllt mit Workshops, Diskussionen, Livemusik und vielen, vielen Menschen. Wir bleiben konsequent und geben uns nicht länger mit leeren Versprechen zufrieden. Join us! #WeekForFuture #FridaysForFuture pic.twitter.com/AyIWzQDkZc
— Fridays For Future Köln (@FFF_Koeln) July 8, 2019
Fridays for Future tweeted that the first day of the strike action was filled with workshops, discussion, live music and lots of people. “We no longer settle for empty promises,” they said.
That means a violation of compulsory school attendance could result in consequences, such as the action being permanently logged on students' records.
“For example, an unexcused absence from school is documented on the (students' yearly) certificate,” the ministry said.
According to the supervisory authorities, fines could also be imposed in extreme cases. “However, it is not yet possible to say how high these fines could be because there are no empirical values,” said Sabine Mistler, chairwoman of the Philologenverband (Philologists Association, a union of high school teachers) in NRW.
“They could, however, be in the range of €100 to €150.”
'Signpost for legal help'
Student and demo organizer Lucas Mielczarek has started a group on Whatsapp for pupils who are facing punishment from their schools for taking part in protests.
“It is the first point of contact for them in their search for help in legal matters, and a signpost for legal help,” said Mielczarek. He added that some pupils have already reported problems.
A young person at the demo in Cologne. Photo: DPA
“There are schools that take action against students who take part in the protests,” said Mielczarek, who's from Düsseldorf. “The schools introduce the obligation to provide a certificate on the relevant days or impose sanctions such as extra tasks on the pupils.”
But he stressed that not all schools are reacting in this way. Some formally write down the absence, but let the pupils know it will not appear permanently on their record.
Mielczarek believes the threat of fines is scaremongering from school authorities. He hopes that pupils and schools will find a solution together.
Mistler also called for better communication between students and schools.
“If the pupils can credibly show they are serious about the matter and not only want to be off school, then it should be easier for the school management to find a solution,” she said.
The anti-climate change demonstrators want to keep their peaceful five-day protest in Cologne underway until Friday.
Launched by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 'Fridays for Future' has seen pupils “strike” against school teaching each Friday for months across Europe, including all over Germany.
“This week, our core demands are to declare a climate emergency and adhere to the Paris Agreement,” said Lili Braun, spokeswoman for the Cologne branch.
“Germany is one of the countries in Europe that will not meet its climate targets at all,” Braun said. Something must finally be done.”