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 decorates 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. 
  • The Oakland students demanded a return to remote learning — or for the district to provide masks for all students and test frequently.
  • The threatened walk-out 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, according to a petition circulating online. 

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

The petition claims that students don’t have access to N95 masks, aren’t spaced far enough apart in the classroom, have no safe designated space to eat, and aren’t tested regularly. The petition also alleges that the district doesn’t have enough substitute teachers to cover for teachers when they are 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 states. “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 chooses 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 will refuse to return to school and threatened to protest outside the district’s offices if their demands aren’t met.

OUSD responded to the student’s petition, saying that they are 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 has distributed KN95 and N95 masks to staff and will 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, according to the district’s coronavirus dashboard.

The district’s weekly test positivity rate also jumped in the last 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 “sickout,” 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 distanced learning, leading to the district canceling classes, according to NBC 5 Chicago.

Just this week, students at New York City’s prestigious Brooklyn Tech high school walked out of class en masse to protest returning to in-person classes without enough COVID-19 safety precautions, AMNewYork 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.