Students across the United States are planning to go on walkouts to protest in-person learning while the nation is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 omicron cases.
Over 4,100 schools across the U.S. were closed as of Tuesday. This may seem like a lot but it’s a slight reduction from the over 5,400 schools that remained closed last week following winter break, as per Burbio, a community event website that tracks school closures on over 5,000 school districts in the country. These closures happened largely because of the surge in COVID-19 cases and connected staff shortages.
In the Big Apple, Brooklyn Technical High School students were in the spotlight on Tuesday after videos that surfaced on social media showed them leaving a school building in the middle of the day. They were reportedly protesting in-person learning while having an apparent lack of testing for both students and staff are going on.
On Tuesday, a Brooklyn Tech junior told the NY Post, “We don’t feel safe at school. It’s pretty much that simple. There are so many cases going around and we think more should be done.”
Some sources told the publication that some teachers allowed the students to leave classes while others did mention that they could face disciplinary action for the protest. Students from Stuyvesant and Bronx Science also participated in the walkouts, according to the Post.
During a Friday News Conference, New York’s newly elected Mayor Eric Adams insisted that schools are the “safest place” for children when he responded to a reporter’s question about the walkouts.
American Academy of Pediatrics Council Member Dr. Sara Bode told Fox News Digital last week that she thinks schools trying to mitigate the transmission of COVID cases are some of the safest areas where children could be in at the moment, as compared to other places in the communities without mitigation strategies being enacted.
“Of course, it’s not zero-risk to have kids in school. … With this increase in transmissibility, we will likely see an increase in cases in schools, but it’s likely not higher risk than many of the other activities kids participate in when they’re not in school,” Bode said.
In Boston, the city’s Student Advisory Council, which is composed of Boston Public School student leaders, is also planning a walkout for Friday.
A poster published on the council’s social media accounts says, “Walkout with us to protect our students, families and teachers.” It then lists several demands, including two weeks’ worth of remote learning, proper PPEs for teachers, COVID-19 tests for both students and teachers, accessible food stations, set classrooms to make contact tracing more efficient, and excused absences, among others.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who also believes school is the “safest place” for students despite the surge in COVID cases, announced that the state has ordered 26 million rapid antigen test kits to be distributed over the next three months, also prioritizing K-12 schools and other childcare facilities for the distribution.
On the West Coast, Redondo Union High School students from Redondo Beach, California, have also planned to do a walkout on Wednesday to protest in-person classes.
“These guidelines are fine, but what’s the point if they’re not being enforced?” asked Michael Lee Chang, a senior from the said high school, told FOX 11 Los Angeles. “The largest clubs are still meeting at lunch indoors. You know, we’re afraid. I’m seeing eight through 18 students missing from each of my classes right now. Mostly because they’re out from COVID, but some because they’re not comfortable dealing with the current problem of students who test positive for COVID or were exposed to it still attending school,” he added.
In a Statement, RUHS told the news outlet that “all concerns brought forth via social media, in regards to COVID protocols and safety, are addressed directly with the concerned student(s).”
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the city’s public school system made headlines as it is undergoing negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union that ended on Tuesday. Here, students are also planning a Friday walkout.
“We demand our voices are not only listened to or heard but the voice of our concerns are implemented within structures,” a graphic shared on social media reads.
This walkout comes after the Chicago Public School system and the CTU agreed earlier this week to allow classes to resume for in-person learning on Wednesday. This agreement received narrow approval from the Teacher’s Union members. It will allow schools to go back to remote learning if one-fourth of the entire staff test positive for coronavirus. It also ensures access to increased testing and PPEs while also enhancing contact tracing.
Before negotiations, union leaders demanded a return to remote learning until they reached an agreement or if COVID-19 cases “substantially” went down. The union then accused the public school system, however, of locking the teachers out of the platforms they use for online teaching while they were negotiating so that the remote learning option was not available.
Both the White House and Education Department Secretary Miguel Cardona have both let the public know their support for keeping schools open.
On Wednesday, the White House announced that a dedicated 5 million rapid tests and 5 million lab-based PCR tests will be allocated to schools at the start of this month to ease shortages in test kit supplies and promote the schools’ safe reopening.