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Seattle students rally to demand stronger health and safety protocols in schools

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 16, 2022

By Monica Velez Seattle Times

About 100 Seattle students gathered outside the Seattle Public Schools district headquarters in Sodo late Friday morning to demand stronger safety protocols after an increase in COVID-19 cases, along with safety threats, has shut some schools down recently.

Students want Seattle Schools to be more transparent about the number of COVID-19 cases it would take to close a school. They’re asking for more mental health resources for students, teachers and the community. And they would like the district to provide a safe space for students and educators after traumatic instances occur, like the recent threats of violence that closed Seattle schools or resulted in lockdowns.

“Students don’t feel safe in school, students feel like our voices aren’t being heard,” said Rena Mateja, a senior at Cleveland High and a member of the NAACP Youth Council. “Educators have been putting their livelihoods on the line just to keep us safe. When we walk into the building, we shouldn’t have to worry about dying, we shouldn’t have to worry about gun threats or anything like that.”

Students also want Gov. Jay Inslee to change a state requirement that there be 180 days of in-person instruction each school year. Students want more remote learning options and are asking Seattle Schools to set up a meeting with Inslee.

Seattle School Board President Brandon Hersey, who attended the rally, said in an interview that he is willing to try to set up an interview with the governor. He said it’s important that Inslee hear directly from students.

“It’s got to be student-led,” Hersey said. “That’s the only way to see long-term change.”

Students at Franklin High School have made a list of their own demands, and some aren’t planning to show up to school on Tuesday if they are not met. Franklin High was closed last Monday and Tuesday and pivoted to remote learning on Wednesday. School is set to resume in-person Tuesday. (Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is a district holiday.)

Franklin students are demanding the district provide N95 masks, have weekly testing for students and staff, and offer vaccines at schools, including booster shots.

Classes were canceled at least six schools in the district this week and at least nine schools have shifted to remote learning. Earlier this week, Seattle Schools released the factors and data that administrators are using to decide if classes need to be canceled or return to remote learning.

The district will consider shifting to remote learning for 10 days if the student absence rate is approaching 50% at elementary schools, or if 10% of students and staff at a school have tested positive.

If 40% of students at middle and high schools are absent, that could trigger a school to go remote for 10 days. If 10% of students in multiple classrooms tested positive at middle and high schools that could cause also cause remote learning for 10 days.

If 25% of Seattle’s 106 schools are being taught remotely, that’s when the district would consider having the entire district go remote, according to the district.

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