Flemish education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) wants to bring an end to the school strikes for action on climate change that marked the second half of last year.
The strikes on Thursday afternoons started among Flemish students, but soon became a nationwide phenomenon. Like their inspiration, Greta Thunberg, the initiators Anuna De Wever and Kyra Gantois became known by first-name only. And they moved from the news pages to the tabloid tittle-tattle, their every move, from personal relationships to school exam scores, slavishly followed by the press.
Now the government has had enough. In response to parliamentary question from party colleague Koen Daniels, Weyts said, “Playing truant from classes is playing truant, and we can’t close our eyes to that.”
His warning comes as the first student march of the New Year is due to take place tomorrow, Friday 7, starting in front of the Central station in Brussels. This time around, Anuna De Wever and the leader of the French-speaking students, Adelaide Charlier, will not be marching at the front. They instead have accepted an internship with the Greens in the European Parliament.
“As minister of education, I want to discourage the students from taking unauthorised time off school,” Weyts said. “We can’t on the one hand complain about the lowering of the quality of education, while at the same time encouraging the practice of truancy. It needs to be made clear that the same rules apply to everyone in all circumstances, regardless of any political or other motives.”
His position is addressed more to schools than to students. Last year schools decided not to take action against the students taking part in the marches, and in some cases schools even organised group transport to Brussels for the sake of student safety.
That is no longer acceptable, the minister said. Absence from school for personal reasons will only be accepted “in strictly exceptional and individual circumstances. Marches for the climate will no longer be included,” Weyts said.