Students walk out of classes, demand COVID safety, remote options

U.S.

(NewsNation Now) — How do kids learn during a pandemic? How do teachers even begin to teach?

That’s the debate, and now it is spilling out of the schools and into the streets.

From coast to coast, students are walking out of the classroom over COVID concerns.

Near Los Angeles, dozens of Redondo Union High School students walked out Wednesday morning, sending a clear message to administrators that they don’t feel safe on campus.

More than 400 of the school’s roughly 2,600 students are infected with COVID along with more than 30 staff members.

“Finals are coming up, that would be nice to close finals,” one student said. “But it’s like, I don’t know, because it’s like once you go down that path, it’s kind of hard to come back.”

Students voiced their concerns at a board meeting Tuesday. Board President Raymer Flynn insisted Redondo Union provides an essential service, adding, “Our schools are going to be the last to close first to open.”

In Okemos, Michigan, about an hour outside Ann Arbor, dozens protested their campus’s COVID policies and a new rule banning backpacks in the wake of the Oxford school shooting.

In New York City, students took on frigid temperatures and walked out of school on Tuesday, one by one raising health and safety concerns as COVID-19 cases continued to surge.

More students have tested positive since the winter break than compared to the entire academic year so far.

On Monday, more than 14,000 new cases — 11,800 students and 2,300 staff members — were reported.

Students at University Neighborhood High School in Manhattan were among those who took part in the walkout. A sophomore who identified herself as Lauren G said she helped organize the protest with support from her principal and her mother.

“It hurts seeing so many students missing from class,” she said.

Parent and activist Naomi Peña said the city needs to increase testing at schools.

“We need to test everyone. We need better social distancing and a remote option. There are families who have not sent their kids back to school yet because the parent or child doesn’t feel safe,” she said.

While some families asked for campus closures and a short-term remote option, city leaders argued that school shutdowns would not stop the spread of COVID-19 with the highly transmissible omicron variant.

There are plenty of students protesting and advocacy for more safe learning conditions. But still, there are others on the other side of the issue who insist that being in person is absolutely essential to a proper education.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told NewsNation affiliate WPIX that the health and safety of students and staff are a top priority for the agency.

“We understand the concerns of our school communities during this crisis and wholeheartedly support civic engagement among New York City students,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our school communities, and we’ve doubled in-school testing and deployed 5 million rapid tests to quickly identify cases, stop transmission, and safely keep schools open. Student voice is key, and we’ll continue to listen to and work closely with those most impacted by our decisions — our students.”

The protests are the latest in clashes over how schools should operate during the pandemic, with some advocating for hybrid and remote options to protect people from the coronavirus and others arguing that a lack of in-person learning hinders students’ education.

On Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union tentatively agreed to accept a deal that allowed schools to reopen Wednesday after the nation’s third-largest school district canceled five days of classes amid a standoff with the teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Watch: Psychotherapist and author Niro Feliciano shares tips on how parents can talk to their kids.

NewsNation affiliate WPIX and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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