As omicron fuels surge, US students stage walkouts to protest in-person classes

Hundreds of students in Boston and Chicago walked out of class on Friday in protests demanding a shift to remote learning as a rise in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant disrupted return-to-school efforts. in-person education in the United States.

In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, the walkout came two days after classroom instruction resumed for 340,000 students who were inactive during a five-day work stoppage by union teachers demanding safeguards. stricter against COVID-19.

Protesting students said they were unhappy with additional health protocols the teachers’ union agreed to earlier this week, ending its standoff with the Chicago Public Schools District (CPS) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“I think the CPS is listening, but I’m not sure they’ll make a change,” Jaden Horten, a junior at Jones College Prep High School, said at a rally at district headquarters that drew about a thousand students.

Students stage one of many mass walkouts

Students hold one of many mass high school COVID safety walks due to the spread of omicron in Chicago on January 14, 2022. (Reuters/Jim Vondruska/Reuters)

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The protest followed student walkouts at various schools in the city.

About 600 young people from 11 Boston schools participated in student walkouts there, according to the school district, which serves nearly 52,000 students. Many protesting students returned to classrooms later, while others returned home after taking part in peaceful protests.

An online petition started by a Boston high school calling schools a “COVID-19 breeding ground” and calling for a remote learning option had garnered more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

The Boston Student Advisory Council, which organized the walkout, posted a series of demands on Twitter, including two weeks of online instruction and stricter COVID-19 testing for teachers and students.

The latest wave of infections has reignited the debate over whether to keep schools open, as officials seek to balance fears about the highly contagious omicron variant with worries that children could fall even further behind academically after two years of interrupted education. The result has been a patchwork of COVID-19 policies across the country that has left parents exhausted and bewildered.

Students gather outside CPS headquarters to stage one of many mass high school COVID safety walks due to the spread of omicron in Chicago on January 14, 2022. (Reuters/Jim Vondruska/Reuters)

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Ash O’Brien, a 10th grade student at Boston Latin School who left the building with a dozen others on Friday, said he didn’t feel safe staying in school.

“I live with two immunocompromised grandparents,” he said. “So I don’t want to go to school, risk getting sick and go home.”

In a statement, Boston Public Schools said it supports students who stand up for their beliefs and pledge to listen to their concerns.

Eric Adams

New York Mayor-elect Eric Adams addresses supporters on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in New York City. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II/AP Newsroom)

Earlier this week, students at several New York City schools staged a strike to protest what they said were inadequate safety measures. Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday his administration is considering a temporary distance learning option for a significant number of students who are staying at home.

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Nearly 5,000 public schools across the country have closed for at least a day this week due to the pandemic, according to Burbio, a website that tracks school disruptions.

The omicron push appears to be slowing in parts of the country that were hit first. Over the past week, the average daily tally of new cases has risen just 5% in northeastern and southern states compared to the previous seven-day period, according to a Reuters analysis. In western states, on the other hand, the average number of infections documented each day increased by 89% last week compared to the previous week.

Overall, the United States is still seeing nearly 800,000 new infections a day among a record number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

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