Students across Boston walked out of their schools at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 14 in protest against unsafe learning conditions. Their demands align with the Boston Teachers Union — that state officials strengthen COVID-19 safety protocols and make remote learning an option.
The protest was organized by student leaders in the Boston Student Advisory Council after the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education broke COVID-19 safety promises. Teachers received expired COVID tests and only two of the thirty masks agreed upon.
Claudia Hernandez, an 8th grade student protester from Boston Latin Academy explained to Liberation News that the walk-out was for “protesting our rights to remote learning during a global pandemic. Our schools aren’t doing a great job following the COVID protocols. … The best thing we have is pool testing, but a lot of kids don’t even do that — it isn’t mandatory. So, our schools aren’t really safe and people are getting sick.”
“It’s not just our school,” Hernandez continued, “it’s all the schools in the district — its hundreds of people everyday who are getting COVID and there’s so many in the district and a lot of people are quarantined because of it.”
Another student at Boston Latin Academy who wished to remain anonymous had a personal reason to join the walk-out: “Some people can’t get the vaccine. They have some type of autoimmune disease. I know my friend’s parents have autoimmune diseases so they can’t get the vaccine, so it’s really dangerous for him to come to school and possibly get COVID.
“The reason I participated in the walk out is because it’s about my family’s safety. I go to school every day, and the protocols are not really the best. … The administration should enforce the rules a little better.”
BSAC’s protest was supported by the Boston Teachers Union and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. The BTU tweeted, “BTU educators stand in solidarity with students walking out for safety today.”
The day before the walk-out, state officials reported 18,721 new confirmed cases in Massachusetts, 3,180 hospitalizations, and 36 confirmed deaths. During a press conference that same day, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu reported 1,200 Boston Public Schools staff absences, up to 40% of staff in some schools. Under these conditions, officials like Education Commissioner Jeff Riley have still written off remote learning as an option.
“[We’re demanding] the opportunity to do remote learning,” Hernandez said, “… to be able to have Zoom classes because a lot of people don’t feel safe coming to school or have been exposed to COVID. They come into school anyways because they aren’t going to be able to get the full education from their home. … It’s not hurting anyone if you have remote learning. It would benefit the students. … When we are in school, we want all of those rules about masks and testing to be mandatory, so people can be safe. … That’s why we walked out, to make a point and protest for our right to remote learning.”
After the protests, a Zoom webinar press conference was held for students, teachers, nurses and families. Student organizers are also calling on participants to text, email, or call BPS and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials to push for demands listed by BSAC.
Boston Student Advisory Council demands:
- Remote learning for 2 weeks
- Proper PPE for teachers
- Proper COVID testing for teachers and students
- Ensure proper pool testing for every BPS school
- Ensure technology works well during remote learning (including Chromebooks and hotspots)
- Ensure food/lunch stations are more accessible
- Once back in school, have students eat in assigned classrooms to ensure proper contact tracing and reduce the spread of COVID
- Canceling mid-years, MAP and other testing due to the instability of the pandemic
- P-EBT cards as long as we are remote
- Change close contact definition
- Ensure all absence requests are excused and students can make up work during this time
- Change quarantining guidelines for teachers and students
- Excused absences
- Consider online remote/hybrid classes as official school days
- School leaders and teachers enforce masking
- Having at least one window open in every classroom