School students who take part in next week's nation-wide climate change rally may be punished for their absence from class, the NSW Department of Education has revealed.
Students across the country, including in Wagga, have been encouraged to cut class and take part in a "climate strike" from 12pm on September 20.
A spokesperson for the department told The Daily Advertiser that students participating in the protest during school hours could face disciplinary action.
"While the NSW Department of Education understands some students are passionate about this topic, all students who are enrolled at school are expected to attend that school whenever instruction is provided," the spokesperson said in a statement. "Any student not in classes on a school day will be marked absent and unexplained absences may be subject to the school's disciplinary code."
In contrast, Charles Sturt University announced it would remove class and assessment requirements next Friday to allow students to be involved. Previously, Wagga students Kester Connor-Gantinas, 15, and his sister Olwyn, 11, have provided their schools with advanced notice of their absence, including a parental letter.
However, each time they have been punished and Kester said it was the threat of getting into trouble that discouraged other students from attending climate rallies. "Some may not be aware of the issue, but others are embarrassed to go because of peer and school pressures," he said.
But groundswell support in the past several months, he believes, has set the foundations to make political involvement among his peers more socially acceptable.
"Some may not be aware of the issue, but others are embarrassed to go because of peer and school pressures," he said.
"I say the younger the better. It does depend on how much they can understand [about the issue], but 10 and upwards would know.
"You should get more into it as you get older."
Olwyn agrees with her brother's sentiment, calling for more students to stand up on the issues that matter to them.
"Climate change will happen more in my lifetime, it's going to affect me," she said.
Kester's interest in climate science was only sparked two years ago when the family relocated to Wagga from Bendigo.
"The effects are more obvious here, it's hotter, it's drier, there are [fewer] trees. During the first summer, we noticed," he said.
Supporting her children's initiative in joining the protests, Olwyn and Kester's mother Celia wants to see the Department of Education make the path to political action smoother.
"The time for inaction has passed now," she said.
"Their schools make them aware of climate science and how it will affect the community, environment, they're not in the dark about it.
"Why don't we think they should be informed? Children are savvy these days, they want to be involved and have conversations about what they're seeing is happening. It's not beyond them."