Over 1,000 Montgomery County, Maryland, students walk out over unsafe conditions
Over 1,000 students in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) system walked out in protest of their district’s COVID-19 policies on Friday. The school system, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is the 14th largest in the United States, with over 160,000 students.
MCPS has been hit with a massive wave of infections at the start of the New Year. Two weeks ago, MCPS backpedaled on its promises to switch to remote learning if the district reached a 5 percent test positivity rate. Interim Superintendent Monifa McBride overrode the guideline only one day after putting it in place, instead putting each new outbreak on a “case by case” basis.
Rupin, a student from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland told the World Socialist Web Site, “I think going virtual for a few weeks would have been very effective.” According to Rupin, who was concerned about spreading the virus to his grandmother, Walter Johnson has a test positivity rate of nearly 15 percent.
“They [used] to give us a percentage of the total school that has COVID. They stopped doing that because they basically just don’t want to tell us. … I think open communication between the county and students is very important.” Rupin said the learning experience had been upended by the pandemic, with a “substitute teacher shortage” resulting in “three classes gathered together in the auditorium being taught by one security guard.”
“My friend’s health class just had a security guard come in. They weren’t even taught anything.” On Thursday, the day before the walkouts, MCPS announced that 16 schools were being shifted to online learning “[a]fter an assessment of multiple operational and health factors.”
Hundreds of Oakland students and teachers show support for student strike during online rally
On Friday morning, an estimated 500 students and teachers from Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) participated in an online Zoom meeting organized by students to discuss their strike and COVID-19 safety concerns in the district.
Representing the widespread opposition to unsafe schools, students and teachers in all grade levels were in attendance from kindergarten to 12th grade. Some students and teachers attended individually, as well as entire classrooms, with teachers projecting the meeting during regular instruction.
Over 9,000 students and staff engaged in sickout action on January 7, which led to a petition initiated by students demanding KN95 masks for all students, weekly PCR testing, and safe outdoor seating for lunches. Since Tuesday, hundreds of students have been on strike and are presently emphasizing the need for schools to go remote as their initial demands have not been fully met.
Student organizers spoke on the implications of catching COVID-19, including infecting loved ones, Long COVID, and the evolution of further variants of concern. Dozens of students and speakers issued support for the students and described the reality of unsafe conditions on their campuses.
One sixth grader said, “My friend, and his entire family all got COVID, which actually was quite worrying. I was concerned him or one of his other family members, like his grandma, could actually have died from COVID. But thankfully they did not. There are mass amounts of students that have been out in multiple classes. I’ve seen so many of my friends just not come to school for weeks because the plan by the district as a whole for how you are going to make sure COVID doesn’t spread has been poor to say the least, including the lack of masks until now. And I am hoping that the district and school can make a better plan to combat COVID and enforce it.”
One high school student said, “Our principal is telling us that only one student or staff member has contracted COVID-19 even though we personally know over three people who have gotten it. So he is basically just lying to us and it’s uncomfortable.”
Mario, a junior at Fremont high school, said, “Schools haven’t been providing safety. They only provided us with one mask, and that’s not good enough. And they have holes in the bottom and that’s not good enough. You guys want us to be safe, I feel like we should have better equipment. The teachers can only do so much and they are really helpful but I feel like the district and school board has to come and help us also.”
“The district needs to be more strict about this COVID stuff,” he stressed. “That’s our health at the end of the day. People are dying because of this and that is not OK. You all don’t want kids dying, that sucks. Losing your loved ones. I lost a loved one from it, I had it badly and almost died so I know what it feels like to have it. … Our voices need to be heard. This is ridiculous. It’s getting out of hand … We need to be safer and come together and beat this.”
An entire class at United For Success Academy middle school was also on the call, taught by teacher Jazmine who the WSWS recently interviewed. One of her students said, “I’m glad we did have the strike and we should show the people in OUSD that we are not joking around and that we do need serious precautions for COVID. Even if we are not vulnerable ourselves, at home we have people that are at high risk. Like my sister, it’s very stressful to be at home with her because I don’t want to get her sick because she has a lung problem, cystic fibrosis. And it’s a mess and I don’t want anyone else to go through that and I really think we need to have higher precautions.”
During discussion, Gabriel Black, an educator and reporter for the World Socialist Web Site, expressed support for the strike and made an appeal for students to break out of the isolation within the district and fight to unite their struggle with other students, teachers and workers across the US and internationally against the homicidal herd immunity policies being implemented in schools and workplaces. “We do not accept that we should die to keep jobs going, and the stock market working,” he said. This is going to require a serious fight which is not just in Oakland, but also in Chicago, LA and elsewhere. We are fighting for a general strike of teachers and students to make schools safe and shut schools down until they can be made safe.”
Students and educators in Oakland should join the emergency meeting of the West Coast Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee this Sunday calling for an immediate pause to in-person learning and to carry forward this fight.
The global struggle to close schools and stop the pandemic
Across Europe and North America, students, educators and parents are in open revolt against the “herd immunity” policies adopted by the richest capitalist governments. In response to the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, these governments have deliberately allowed the virus to spread, with nearly one million children infected with COVID-19 last week in the US alone. A staggering three million people are now officially infected with the virus each day worldwide.
The fight against school reopenings is once again the spearhead of the global class struggle as masses of youth and educators are unwilling to accept further infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. The following struggles have erupted across Europe and Canada in the past week or are planned in the coming days:
- Thousands of teachers across France took part in local strikes throughout the country on Thursday, one week after a nationwide strike encompassing roughly 75 percent of all teachers, which closed half of the country’s primary schools.
- On Tuesday, students at more than 100 schools across Austria went on strike against the reckless school reopening policies
- Thousands of teachers, students and parents participated in nationwide demonstrations across Greece on Thursday, protesting the government’s pandemic policies and military buildup. Student occupations continue at many schools nationwide, despite students being intimidated and threatened by the government, police and right-wing forces.
- On Monday, hundreds of students at up to 90 schools across Manitoba, Canada, walked out of class due to unsafe conditions.
- In the United Kingdom, educators and parents have widely denounced the scrapping of mask wearing in secondary schools, which was the only remaining mitigation measure.
Throughout the United States, student strikes have taken place this week or are planned in the following major cities:
- Roughly 1,200 students in Oakland, California, initiated an indefinite school strike on Tuesday, winning the support of many teachers and parents.
- On Tuesday, hundreds of students from all eight St. Paul, Minnesota, high schools and some middle school students walked out of classrooms. At least two Minnesota students and eight educators died last year after contracting COVID-19.
- Students at 18 high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, are walking out today to demand online instruction for at least the next two weeks. Montgomery County Public Schools is the 14th largest school district in the US with over 160,000 students.
- Roughly 200 Park City High School students in Park City, Utah, walked out on Thursday to protest the Utah State Senate moves to end mask mandates in schools.
- High school students in Broward County, Florida, are preparing a walkout on Monday. Broward County Public Schools is the sixth largest school district in the US with over 270,000 students and is where the 2018 Parkland school shooting took place.
- At Northwestern University outside Chicago, Illinois, a substantial section of students have refused to go back to in-person classes. A petition calling for online classes garnered more than 1,500 signatures but has been ignored by school administrators.
- Over the past two weeks, other significant demonstrations by students took place in New York City, Chicago, Boston, Seattle and other major cities across the country.
In each of these struggles, students and educators are fighting not just for their own safety but for that of their families and communities. Before the global surge of the Omicron variant, over 167,000 children in the US and over 1.5 million globally had lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19, figures that are never referred to by the capitalist politicians, media talking heads and union officials who hypocritically feign concern for the mental health of students.
Protests of students, educators and parents continue across Greece
Occupations continued at many schools in Greece Thursday, despite students being intimidated and threatened by the government, police and right-wing forces. According to the education website alfavita.gr, two students were taken into police custody at an occupied lyceum.
A shocking video circulating on social media shows roughly 15 fascist thugs attacking students at a technical high school in Thessaloniki just as they had gathered to decide to occupy the school and participate in the upcoming demonstration. The attackers also tried to tear down a student banner that read, “We won't sacrifice our dreams, health and education.”
Thousands of teachers, students and parents participated in nationwide demonstrations Thursday against the government’s criminal COVID-19 policies, demanding measures at schools and universities to stop the spread of the virus. Workers and youth are particularly outraged by Greece’s military buildup, while the government claims there is no money for public education and health. Just one day before the protest, the first six of 24 Rafale fighter jets ordered from France arrived at Tanagra Air Force Base and were blessed in an official state ceremony by an Orthodox priest.
On Thursday, hundreds of students in the Round Rock School District (RRISD) just outside Austin, Texas, walked out of classes in protest of the district’s COVID-19 policies. In the days leading up to the walkout, a petition started among Cedar Ridge High School students and then passed around to other high schools and middle schools gained more than 600 signatures.
A Round Rock High School senior told local reporters from KXAN News that “things weren’t going to get better until we took a stand.
“We care about student safety, we care about faculty safety, and we need the district to listen to us. We need a mask mandate that’s actually enforced.”
Another student expressed concerns about the possibility of getting sick.
“There are kids who don’t wear masks at all throughout the day, and I don’t feel safe,” the student said. “I don’t want to get sick and get my family sick.”
On the same day students from Denver Public Schools (DPS) announced their intention to walk out of classes until the school district meets their demands for COVID-19 safety precautions.
“No student should feel scared and have to sacrifice their health or their family’s health to get an education. We are speaking up and taking action so that we can be comfortable going to school,” the students said in a January 12 letter outlining their concerns.
“What is on the table? Our list of what we believe are reasonable demands to keep us safe and combat the health effects both staff and students fear getting every day we attend school,” they said.
Students demanded the district provide all students with masks, HEPA filtration and proper airflow in classrooms, twice-weekly COVID testing for students attending in-person learning, “integrated learning” for sick students or those wishing to stay home, and weather-protected outdoor spaces for safe lunches.
A Chicago Public Schools parent condemns the deadly return to school
A week after the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) forced teachers back into unsafe Chicago Public Schools (CPS), opposition from teachers, students and parents remains determined.
Earlier this month, more than 75 percent of teachers voted to end in-person education until the Omicron surge abated, but the CTU conceded to an agreement that will do nothing to stop the spread of the Omicron variant in schools and across the Chicago metropolitan area. In response to this deadly betrayal, thousands of CPS students walked out last Friday, joining a wave of student and teacher protests against in-person learning around the country.
Interview with a CPS parent
The WSWS is speaking to teachers, parents and workers about their concerns. One parent, whose name has been changed here to Sarah to protect her identity, spoke at length with the WSWS about her opposition to the forced reopening of in-person schooling.
WSWS: What’s it been like since you returned to school?
Sarah: “I haven’t sent my daughter back since school returned [from winter break]...How can I send my child back? What do I do in terms of protecting myself so that I’m not being hauled into court and being put on probation, and messing up my background because they are charging me with these compulsory re-attendance issues. It’s problematic…Plus many teachers and staff are missing because of COVID.”
WSWS: What do you think of the so-called COVID “safety” in schools?
Sarah: “It’s a great concern because we know that [children] are more susceptible, even though they’ve been vaxxed and boosted and everything, being inside in that environment with students that are unvaccinated – it’s a problem. And then when they’re eating inside, they have to take their mask off, and honestly under no circumstances should students be inside eating with their masks off.”
French unions try to demobilize teachers strike vs. mass COVID-19 infections
Teachers marched in cities across France yesterday, a week after a widely followed nationwide teachers’ strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies of mass infection on COVID-19. The strike, which rallied fewer teachers than a week earlier, reflected far broader popular opposition to the eruption of Omicron cases in France and advanced calls for Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer to resign.
The strike took place amid a disastrous health situation, with nearly a half-million daily infections for three straight days in France. The number of currently active COVID-19 cases in France is nearing 6 million, or 9 percent of the population, with children particularly hard hit. At the same time, however, Prime Minister Jean Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran gave a speech announcing the lifting of virtually every remaining public health measure to halt the spread of COVID-19, making crystal clear their support for a policy of mass infection.
On January 13, over 75 percent of schoolteachers struck, according to union figures, and half of schools were closed, and around 78,500 teachers marched in the streets, according to police. On January 20, the strike mobilized only 1.15 percent of primary and 2.18 percent of secondary school teachers, according to Education Ministry figures. After threatening not to allow the teachers’ march in Paris to proceed, Paris police prefect Didier Lallement relented and told the unions the march would be “tolerated.”
New Mexico governor calls in National Guard to substitute teach as educators and child care workers fall ill from COVID
In a January 19 speech at Santa Fe High School, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she had requested the state’s National Guard to provide personnel to act as substitute teachers and child care workers. She also asked state workers to offer their services. Santa Fe High, like many other schools in the state, is currently closed due to the Omicron variant-driven surge of COVID-19 infections and resultant staffing shortages.
The Democratic governor had hinted at the move at a January 13 news conference in response to multiple teacher and child care worker absences due to a massive increase in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant was, as it still is, sweeping the state. The KOB news channel described it as one of several “innovative new ideas that could help schools facing staffing challenges.” New Mexico currently has a shortage of over 900 substitute teachers.
Since the end of the semester break, and the predictable onset of outbreaks that have accompanied the return to in-person instruction, around 60 school districts and charter schools in the state have temporarily returned to remote learning, and some 75 child care facilities have closed either partially or completely.