Three students have been banned from their end-of-year prom after skipping revision classes to attend a school climate strike.
Ellie Kinloch, Tyler McHugh, and Isobel Deady, all 16, missed school to take part in a climate change youth protest in Manchester city centre on Friday 24 May.
When they returned to Albany Academy in Chorley, Lancashire, they were told by headteacher Peter Mayland that they would not be allowed to attend the end of year prom on 28 June.
But all three pupils said they informed the school of their plans beforehand and believe the protest should have been considered an “exceptional circumstance”.
Mr Mayland says their attendance at the Youth Strike 4 Climate protest represents an “unauthorised absence”, for which the pupils should be disciplined.
The students' parents met with the headteacher and offered to pay a fine, have their children go to detention or embark on some sort of environmental project to help the school.
School officials have refused to reverse their decision.
Ellie's mother, Karen Fogg, said: “They've done nothing wrong in five years at this school, they’ve never been in trouble once.
“You’ve got children [going to prom] with worse disciplinary records who have done far worse than skip school for something they believe in.
“We accept it as an unauthorised absence but we don’t accept the weight of the punishment.”
The 24 May protest was inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and was open to students who believe in combating climate change.
Karen Kinloch, Ellie's mother, said: “The day before the protest they were told it was not authorised and that it would put everything at risk.
“But the school told this to the girls and not us as parents.
“If they had told me in advance I would have made a decision, we've spent £500 on Ellie for the prom in dresses, tickets, transport.
“Ellie is devastated. We all are. We’ve never felt so strongly about anything like this.
“The others are livid with it all, everyone is pretty upset.”
The students were told about the prom ban on Monday 3 June, which was the first school day after returning from half term and the first school day after attending the protest.
Ms Kinloch added: “The girls don't drink or smoke, they are good kids. This is what they believe in and what they’re passionate about. It’s a good thing.”
Mr Mayland said: “Albany Academy has an excellent reputation, based on the high standards we have, especially for students' attendance, behaviour and safety.
“Our rule on attendance during exams has been in place for many years: Year 11 children need to be in school to prepare fully for their GCSEs.
“Where a student has unauthorised absence, we apply sanctions. We do this fairly and we always take into account the needs of individual students and their specific circumstances.
“We make our expectations to parents and students very clear, both verbally and in writing.
“For Year 11 students, our prom is a voluntary privilege, and one element of our celebrations of their time at Albany Academy.
“This privilege may be removed in the event of poor attendance or poor behaviour during the final term of Year 11.”
Wendy Bicknell, Ellie’s godmother, warned that it set a bad precedent for being honest with schools on such matters.
She said: “It tells me that honesty isn’t the best policy.
“If they had just said they were ill and not told the truth this wouldn’t be happening.”
Janine Deady, Isobel’s mother, said she feels the school is “making an example of our daughters for taking strike action”.
She said: “We hear so often that young people are apathetic but it’s not the case. The girls are an example of that.”
Ms Deady said Isobel decided to join the protest after seeing a lot of things in the media about environmental damage, including the Our Planet documentary with Sir David Attenborough.
She said: “Isobel considered very carefully taking the day off for the strike action, it was not taken lightly at all.
“She considered it very carefully before making the decision because there is nothing else open to them at their age as a way of expressing themselves.
“They can’t vote and will be the generation most affected by damage to the planet.
“We consider it was exceptional circumstances. It comes as the government has declared a climate emergency. I was happy for her to express herself and join the youth fight.
“The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. This was her first unauthorised absence in her five years there.”
A petition has been launched Change.org by Ms Bicknell in a bid to have Mr Mayland reverse his decision.
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