A high school senior in Florida was suspended for distributing flyers about Friday’s climate strike protest to his classmates.
Elijah Ruby, 17, told BuzzFeed News he had hoped to get permission for a school-sanctioned field trip to attend the protest, one of many taking place in the United States and around the world on Friday. Instead, the Miami Herald first reported, Ruby said he was ignored and then suspended.
“I went to the school first. I wanted to go through the official channels,” Ruby told BuzzFeed News. “We should have been encouraged to participate."
Initially, he said, an administrator gave him permission to "disseminate" information about the protest, but he was later told that he had to wait until the school board responded to his request for the field trip. However, the board’s response was slow in coming, so Ruby said he decided to keep handing out flyers while he awaited a response.
That didn't fly with administrators.
“Maybe they didn’t understand what 'disseminate' meant in that context, or maybe they thought that that would just mean outside of school, but they said ‘yes’ to disseminating information,” he said. “They should have been more clear with me. I had posters. I had flyers. I was very clear I wanted to pass them out."
On Thursday, an administrator spotted Ruby handing out flyers in the cafeteria and pulled him into an office to tell him his request for a field trip had been denied and that he would be suspended for being defiant.
Initially, the school also told Ruby that he would would be prohibited from attending prom and homecoming and would have other senior privileges revoked. But Ruby said the school has relented in the wake of the ensuing media attention. Although he was suspended on Friday, Ruby told BuzzFeed News that he’ll be able to attend prom and the other school functions after all.
“He repeatedly asked for feedback and permission, and was not given any," Ruby’s mom, Stacy Wolfe, told BuzzFeed News. “The thing for me that’s frustrating is that he just wanted an audience with the principal. He just wanted to try to make a change, to make a difference, and he was put off and put off."
Cypress Bay High School, which is also in the district, had initially approved a similar field trip to the protest to be supervised by teachers, but that too was canceled abruptly last night.
“It was approved,” said Nicole Buckley, 17, who organized the Cypress Bay field trip. “Students filled out their field trip forms. We ordered a bus.
"Everything was supposed to happen,” she said.
Then Buckley said she got a call last night around 6:30 p.m. saying the trip was canceled.
“I was astonished. I was livid," she said. "I was like, how could they do this to us?”
Nick Montecalvo, who teaches in the language arts department at Cypress Bay, and who had signed up to be a chaperone, confirmed Buckley’s account.
Buckley said she has gotten different responses from the school and district administrators about why the field trip was canceled, but she believes it was in response to publicity about Ruby’s suspension.
Wolfe said she also believed that the school district had influenced the decision to prevent Ruby from organizing a field trip at South Broward High School.
A spokesperson for Broward County Public Schools responded to BuzzFeed News by email with a statement addressed at what it described as inaccuracies in the Miami Herald's reporting, saying that the school has objected to Ruby's flyer because it "misrepresented the walkout as a District sanctioned event."
The email continued: "The school administration requested that the student cease distributing the flyer as it had been designed. The student continued to distribute the flyer. Had the student reprinted and distributed the flyers without the misleading impression that the District was organizing the strike, the administration would not have taken disciplinary action."
Ruby said, however, that the school never afforded him the opportunity to redesign the flyer. He told BuzzFeed News that he used two different flyers, and that administrators never mentioned any issue with the design until after he had been suspended.
“Allowing students to participate in this sort of political action is somewhat radical,” Ruby acknowledged. But he argued that it was “a good radicalism” and said he thought administrators were afraid to rock the boat.
“What I have to say to people that are just afraid to rock the boat and shake things up is that it might be OK if you’re 40 or 50 years old, and you’re the head of the Broward County Public School Board,” he said. “But for young people, they say we have 11 years to totally change, to eliminate carbon in the atmosphere, change our economy, or else it’s going to be irreversible."
He added: "It’s right around the corner. These leaders should listen to the youth of the country and not be so worried about these bureaucratic principles that are installed in institutions.”
South Broward High School is also home to a maritime magnet program in which students learn about marine science, which Ruby was part of through last year.
Ruby said students in the program were taught about the impact of climate change on the ocean. He asked, “What’s the point about learning about climate change or ocean acidification if you aren’t allowing students to go to protests and act on these issues?”