Over 1,000 California students are threatening to walk out of school over COVID-19 safety concerns: 'We must go back to distance learning'

Garfield Elementary kindergarten teacher Katya Meltaus decorates her car before a teacher protest outside Oakland school district in January 2022.
Garfield Elementary kindergarten teacher Katya Meltaus decorating her car before a teacher protest outside Oakland school district in January 2022.San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images
  • Over 1,000 California students plan to walk out of class over COVID-19 safety concerns next week.

  • Oakland students demand a return to remote learning or for the district to improve safety policies.

  • The threatened walkout follows protests by teachers this month over the school's COVID-19 policies.

As the Omicron variant rages across the country, more than 1,000 California students have threatened to walk out of class next week if their COVID-19 safety concerns aren't addressed, a petition circulating online said.

Students at Oakland Unified School District high schools and middle schools wrote in the petition to the school district, board, and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell that they would strike until they got a safe learning environment in the classroom.

The petition said students didn't have access to N95 masks, weren't spaced far enough apart in the classroom, had no safe designated space to eat, and weren't tested regularly. The petition also alleged that the district didn't have enough substitute teachers to cover for teachers when they were out sick.

"There's a lot of concerns regarding safety measures and how to protect us from COVID-19, especially the highly contagious Omicron variant," the petition said. "We must go back to distance learning until the cases go down again."

The students added a list of demands for the district if it chose not to go back to remote classes:

  1. The distribution of KN95/N95 masks to every student.

  2. PCR and rapid COVID-19 testing for everyone on campus twice per week.

  3. More outdoor spaces for students to eat when it rains.

The petition set a deadline of January 17 for the district to comply. Students said they would refuse to return to school and threatened to protest outside the district's offices if their demands weren't met.

OUSD responded to the student's petition, saying it was addressing the student's concerns.

"We share the students' concern about the spike in omicron cases of COVID-19," the district said in a statement. "We are already meeting, or are in the process of meeting, most of the demands noted in this petition. And we will continue to work towards fulfilling the rest in the coming weeks. The best thing that all students can do to protect themselves is to get vaccinated and boosted."

The district said it had distributed KN95 and N95 masks to staff and would distribute KN95 masks to all students. KN95 and N95 masks provide the best protection against COVID-19 infection, Insider previously reported.

OUSD didn't immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Oakland schools reported 799 new COVID-19 cases among students and another 117 new cases among teachers last week, the district's coronavirus dashboard showed.

The district's weekly test-positivity rate also jumped in the past week, from 3.6% at the end of December to over 12% during the first week in January.

Earlier this month, more than 500 Oakland teachers staged a sick-out, forcing more than a dozen schools in the district to close, NBC Bay Area reported.

The Oakland student petition is a part of a wave of students and teachers across the country who have protested the growing number of COVID-19 cases in schools.

Teachers unions have pushed back against returning to classrooms, with Chicago's union voting to bring back distance learning, which led to the district canceling classes, NBC 5 Chicago reported.

Just this week, students at New York City's prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School walked out of class en masse to protest returning to in-person classes without enough COVID-19 safety precautions, AM New York reported.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have reached record highs in the US as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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