Jan. 31, 2022
As the Omicron variant surges across Texas, students at public high schools are turning to petition drives and walkouts in an effort to get school districts to require more COVID-19 protocols, The Texas Tribune reports.
The students are asking for a return to face mask rules or an expansion of virtual learning. In some cases they want school districts to temporarily shut down during the surge.
“We could be doing more, and we’re choosing not to [in order] to stay open, at any cost, and by any means necessary,” Tiernee Pitts, a protest leader and senior at Cedar Ridge High School in the Round Rock Independent School District, told The Texas Tribune. “It just feels like we’re just being open while everything around us is falling down.”
Since school restarted after the winter holidays there have been 192,145 student COVID-19 cases and 61,142 staff cases, The Tribune said, citing the Texas Education Agency. That appears to be the highest case level since the start of the pandemic.
In the Fort Bend school district, more than 200 students have signed a petition asking schools to be shut down during the surge. One of those students, Jada Clerk, a freshman at William B. Travis High School, said she has asthma and that walking down hallways among unmasked classmates is stressful.
“Sometimes I don’t even want to breathe,” Clerk told The Tribune. “You can really feel people’s breath on you. That’s how close we were [in the hallway].”
A student in the Garland school district, 11th grader Fernando Alaniz, says Omicron is so prevalent that three of his teachers are out sick. Half of his eight teachers and most students don’t wear masks, he told The Tribune.
About 700 people have signed a petition asking Garland school officials to make changes, such as bringing back remote learning for students who test positive, reviving the mask rule, giving PCR tests, and providing masks at school.
“It is a shame that our school district is not caring about the health of the students and staff, even though we are going through a pandemic that has taken the lives of so many people in Texas,” the petition says.
Students at the Round Rock school district, north of Austin, walked out in an effort to get the administration to impose more safety rules. More than 1,800 signed an online petition.
The Tribune said district officials met with student protest organizers and agreed to some demands, such as providing more testing sites and high-quality masks.
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the Round Rock school district chief of public affairs and communications, told The Tribune that staff shortages make some of the demands difficult to meet. For instance, she said the district could not find enough people to conduct contact tracing. The district had a program earlier when there were enough people.
The Tribune said the Texas attorney general is suing the Round Rock ISD for requiring masks in schools – a rule that violates Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates. But Pitts, the student, said the mask mandate is unenforced and many students don’t wear them.