Hundreds of Boston public school students stormed out of their classes on Friday to protest in-person learning as COVID-19 continues to surge.
After the walkout, students across the district delivered an online presentation with a list of demands to local and state officials, insisting that “students should not have to risk their lives for an education.”
More than 600 high school students across 11 schools participated in Friday morning’s peaceful protest, according to Boston.com. They reportedly left their classes at 10:30 a.m. Some returned to school after the walkout, and others simply went home.
Following the walkout, the Boston Student Advisory Committee—a student council for district high schoolers—hosted a webinar with testimony from students and faculty members who shared their experiences and concerns during the pandemic. Boston.com reported that more than a thousand of the city’s faculty members were out the first week after winter break due to COVID-19, and 41,063 new cases were reported among Massachusetts public school students just last week.
The Friday call started off with students urging supporters to contact local and state legislators with their concerns about COVID in schools. They decried Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker for having a lackluster pandemic response and complained that the state Department of Education’s COVID strategy has lacked direction.
They claimed that COVID-19 was not the administration’s focus when they went back to school—to study in classrooms they referred to as “petri dishes”—after winter break.
“Students should not have to risk their lives for an education!” they cried.
Students blasted in-school learning when staffing shortages continue as faculty members test positive for the virus. They noted how entire classes had to be notified about being in close contact with people who had contracted COVID-19. They also detailed their experiences of enduring the pandemic during the majority of their high school years.
“We are being set up to catch COVID in schools…just to get the letter grade we need on our report card,” said Wellington Matos, a high school senior and student representative of Fenway High.
“Without the teachers, we would not have classrooms to learn,” said Xyra Mercer, a student representative of Henderson.
The group provided a list of demands for Boston and state officials: improved testing protocols, better access to personal protective equipment, and the ability to eat lunches in classrooms rather than gather in larger groups in cafeterias. However, their biggest request was to reinstate remote learning.
“Many students had a hard time during remote learning,” commented one anonymous parent on the call. “Many students said they felt depressed and felt like they were missing their in-school relationships. Is there anything we could do to keep that from happening this time?”
“My son missed his entire senior year,” said another. “His education has been set back tremendously. What is wrong with you all? You try to act smart but you sound like fools.”
The student board understood that remote learning was not meant for everyone, but they stood firm that it needed to be a viable option for students who didn’t feel comfortable attending school in-person.
“Virtual learning is frustrating. It comes down to safety and community,” said student Stacy Tran. “If we’re not protecting ourselves, what’s the point? Safety is key.”
Other parents and teachers chimed in, showing their support for the group’s initiative.
“I am a teacher at…O’Bryant and I fully support your advocacy!” one educator said. “You guys are the most affected by this and your voices are powerful and need to be heard!”
“Appreciate your activism and uplifting your fellow student voices,” another person said. “Your ‘ask’s’ are reasonable and focusing on the emergent nature of this pandemic. It’s not like you are advocating for remote learning for the rest of the year. You are advocating for responsiveness, safety and care.”
“Thank you all so much for taking action and speaking out. I completely support you in your advocacy!” said Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools in Boston.
The demonstration came after an online campaign petitioned for Massachusetts students to have the option of remote learning. As of Friday afternoon, the petition garnered more than 8,500 signatures.