Those who took part in the walkout, which appeared to have been organized by a group of students on social media, called for more robust measures, including more testing and better health-screening measures to identify positive cases. In the short term, the students wrote on Instagram that they seek a return to remote or blended learning.
As one Brooklyn Technical High School junior told the New York Post: “We don’t feel safe at school.”
It’s not clear how many students took part in the walkout, which began at 11:52 a.m. and affected some of the city’s largest high schools, including Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant. According to preliminary data from New York City’s Department of Education, nearly 83 percent of Brooklyn Tech students and 86 percent of Stuyvesant students attended class Tuesday.
In New York, both Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and Mayor Eric Adams (D) have staunchly defended in-person instruction. Adams has called schools “the safest place for our children” and argued that remote learning hurts students’ development, while Hochul’s plan to “Keep Schools Open” provides for increased testing capacity to allow students who are exposed to the coronavirus but who test negative to stay in school.
“We understand the concerns of our school communities during this crisis and wholeheartedly support civic engagement among New York City students," said Sarah Casasnovas, deputy press secretary for New York City’s Department of Education, in a statement. "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our school communities, and we’ve doubled in-school testing and deployed 5 million rapid tests to quickly identify cases, stop transmission, and safely keep schools open. Student voice is key and we’ll continue to listen to and work closely with those most impacted by our decisions — our students.”
The head of New York City’s Department of Education, Chancellor David C. Banks, is inviting student leaders from the schools that participated in the walkout to discuss their concerns and ideas.
New York City students and employees are not the only ones expressing frustration with the way some schools have handled the rise in coronavirus cases driven by omicron.
Students from the Oakland Unified School District in California threatened to boycott classes starting Monday unless their district met their demands for more remote learning and stricter measures to mitigate virus transmission.
Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools canceled classes for five school days in a row, as teachers faced off against city officials over coronavirus protocols. Chicago schools will reopen Wednesday after the teachers union and the city reached an agreement that will set forth criteria for closing schools with outbreaks, providing KN95 masks for educators and students, and allowing teachers the option to take an unpaid leave of absence if an employee’s medical condition puts them at higher risk of severe illness.
The Biden administration has attempted to walk a fine line between alienating teachers unions, whose members have been on the front lines of the pandemic, and parents, who after two years of the health crisis are still juggling child care with remote work and worry that their children are falling behind.
The White House has pledged to send schools 10 million free coronavirus tests per month to help them stay open.
— Laura Meckler and Andrew Jeong contributed to this report.