Hundreds of students protested in Boston and Chicago on Friday, demanding a switch to remote learning as a rise in COVID-19 cases spurred by the Omicron variation stymied efforts to return to in-person education across the United States.
The protest in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school system, occurred two days after in-class teaching began for 340,000 children who had been idled during a five-day work stoppage by unionized teachers demanding tighter COVID-19 protections.
Protesting children expressed dissatisfaction with the new health standards agreed to by the teachers union earlier this week, which ended its impasse with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administration and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“I think CPS is listening, but I’m not sure they’ll make a difference,” said Jaden Horten, a junior at Jones College Prep High School, at a demonstration at district headquarters attended by over a thousand kids.
The protest was held in response to student walkouts at other schools around the city.
According to the school district, which educates over 52,000 students, about 600 students from 11 Boston schools engaged in student walkouts there. Many protesting students subsequently returned to class, while others went home after participating in peaceful demonstrations.
As of Friday morning, an internet petition created by a Boston high school senior labelling schools as a “COVID-19 breeding ground” and pushing for a remote learning alternative had gathered over 8,000 signatures.
The Boston Student Advisory Council, which organized the walkout, tweeted a list of demands, including two weeks of online education and more severe COVID-19 assessment for instructors and students.
The newest wave of illnesses has reignited discussion over whether schools should remain open, as administrators attempt to balance worries about the highly infectious Omicron type with concerns that youngsters may fall further behind academically following two years of stop-and-start training. As a result, the country has seen a patchwork of COVID-19 regulations, leaving parents stressed and frustrated.
Ash O’Brien, a 10th-grade student at Boston Latin School who fled with about a dozen other students on Friday, said he didn’t feel secure staying at school.
“I live with two immune-compromised grandparents,” he explained. “As a result, I don’t want to go to school, risk being sick, and then coming home to them.”
Boston Public Schools issued a statement in which it stated that it supports students who advocate for their opinions and promised to listen to their concerns.
Students at numerous New York City schools staged a walkout earlier this week to protest what they perceived to be inadequate safety precautions. On Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams said that his administration was contemplating a temporary remote learning option for a large number of kids who were remaining at home.
According to Burbio, a website that analyzes school disruptions, over 5,000 public schools throughout the country had closed for at least one day this week due to the epidemic.
The Omicron surge appears to be slowing in the first-affected parts of the country. According to a Reuters investigation, the average daily tally of new cases in the Northeastern and Southern states has climbed barely 5% in the last week compared to the previous seven-day period. In contrast, the average number of illnesses reported per day in Western states has increased by 89 percent in the last week compared to the previous week.
Overall, the United States continues to report approximately 800,000 new infections every day, despite a record number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients.