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A planned student strike in Melbourne to support Palestinians next week has drawn swift criticism from state and federal opposition MPs who argue students should not be used as “political pawns” in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Free Palestine Melbourne posted details of the student walkout, organised by School Students For Palestine, on the group’s social media feeds on Monday afternoon, prompting a statement from federal Education Minister Jason Clare that children should be in class during school hours.
Free Palestine Melbourne posted details of a student strike for Palestine planned for next week.Credit: Facebook
The group said the walkout would begin at 12.30pm – school lunchtime – on Thursday, November 23, followed by a protest in the CBD at 1.30pm.
One of the students involved in the event told The Age via email that groups of student activists were promoting the strike in a number of inner-city schools, including Princes Hill, Fitzroy High, Brunswick Secondary and Thornbury High. She said students from across the state had also registered interest.
“We’ve been inspired by school walkouts in the US and UK, and we want to make our voices heard. It’s important to show that there are millions who stand with Palestine,” the student said.
“Not all school principals have been happy to see us organising a walkout, but we’ve been getting some pretty incredible support from teachers and parents.”
Victorian shadow minister for education Jess Wilson and federal shadow education minister Sarah Henderson urged state and federal governments to make it clear to schools and students that attendance at the rally would not be an approved absence, and asked them to condemn the event.
“Students should not be used as political pawns by any group,” Henderson said.
“Our kids need to be in school. This protest is not only completely unacceptable, but risks heightening antisemitic behaviour across communities.”
Wilson said Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan must instruct schools that “this is not an approved nor endorsed reason for student absence”.
In response to questions from The Age, Clare said on Monday evening that “school students should be at school during school hours”.
“It’s incumbent on political and community leaders to turn the temperature down and do everything possible to maintain community cohesion,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Education Department said schools are communicating with parents and carers about the escalating conflict in the Middle East.
“Schools also ensure students understand that any form of racism is not tolerated, and nor is any language likely to incite any form of racism, antisemitism or violence,” the spokesperson said.
All Victorian schools will be operating to their usual schedule on November 23.
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