SEATTLE - Students in Seattle joined others across the country participating in "sickouts" and "walkouts" to demonstrate their call for increased COVID-19 safety measures in schools.
During a walkout on Friday, dozens of students and community members rallied outside of Seattle Public Schools’ district office.
Throughout the demonstration, several students said they did not feel safe at school as COVID-19 Omicron variant cases surge. One student chanted, "What do we want? COVID safety! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!"
"We should be listened to because we’re doing it for our safety, not for our enjoyment," said Neko Conner, an SPS senior. "Everyday, school feels more and more unsafe. We don’t have the right kind of masks to protect us for long periods of time."
Their requests for increased safety measures included N95 and KN95 masks for everyone, weekly COVID testing, vaccine clinics on campus, contract tracing and daily COVID updates. The demonstrators said they believe their ideas would help protect them from the highly contagious virus.
"Especially during lunch, a lot of people don’t have their masks, are in massive groups and aren’t really worried about COVID and I know some may be exposed and they don’t even know it," said Jaime Mullen, an SPS freshman.
Students said they also think the measures would help keep classrooms open. The district said, recently, it has had to close some schools entirely or move classes to remote learning due to too many sick calls and high quarantine rates.
On Friday, SPS announced four schools had to close, and eight schools had to learn from home. Parents who attended the rally said the last-minute notifications were becoming a problem.
"I’d like to see a more coherent policy coming out of the district. It’s quite confusing," said Linda Mullen, an SPS parent.
"I think it’s been really difficult for them to deal with the stop, start—in particular the high schoolers where the social aspect of school is critical," said Kathleen Royer, an SPS parent.
"The uncertainties of whether we will or will not have school have been piling up. Even class work has been piling up," said Delano Cordoza, an SPS senior.
Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones was in the audience listening to the students’ voices. In a written statement, the district said, "it recognizes the fear and anxiety around a dramatic increase of COVID cases" in the community. SPS mentioned it has implemented, "layers of protection against transmission," and, "vaccinating more than 12,000 students," since the school year started in September.
The written statement further mentioned the district, "continues to follow the guidance of public health, and public health entities recommend in-school learning for the social, emotional, and mental welfare of students and recommend remote learning only as a last resort."
Students said they hope their call for change was considered.
"The school district, the superintendent and even the governor will kind of take students' opinions a little more seriously because right now, we’re being brushed off unless we get teachers to speak for us," said Conner.
"Sickouts" and "walkouts" have been trending in schools across the country. Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said the state has, "some of the most stringent health and safety protocols for schools in the nation."
As schools across the state navigate in-person and remote learning during this latest surge, OSPI said it would continue supporting schools as the transmission rate lowers.
OSPI further stated an "important factor" to keeping schools safe, open and reducing the spread is getting vaccinated. The office reported roughly 90% of teachers and staff are vaccinated. Only 60% of high school and middle students and less than 30% of elementary students are vaccinated.
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