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High school students across St. Paul walked out of classrooms Tuesday afternoon to protest the district’s COVID-19 precautions, which they say aren’t sufficient to protect students.
The students want the St. Paul Public Schools officials to immediately switch to virtual learning for two weeks and implement other policies related to COVID-19, including providing KN95 masks and more at-home tests for students. If the district doesn’t meet their demands, the students say they will hold more walkouts.
“We have felt that the district has not sought out our voices, and that those who have spoken out have not been heard,” said Jerome Treadwell, a Highland Park Senior High School senior, during a news conference Tuesday. “District administration is not in the school buildings regularly. They are not spending seven hours surrounded by unmasked kids, overwhelmed teachers, understaffed nurses.”
The St. Paul student protest comes as the highly contagious omicron variant keeps case counts and hospitalizations elevated in Minnesota and across the country.
Schools statewide saw a surge in COVID-19 cases after winter break ended in early January, and many districts — including Minneapolis, Shakopee and Rochester — moved to distance learning in response.
St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard on Jan. 13 proposed a switch to distance learning, the Pioneer Press reported. The local teachers union and administration couldn’t reach an agreement on the plan, and the district remained in in-person learning.
St. Paul Public Schools has reported more than 2,400 COVID-19 cases among staff and students so far this month, compared to 690 in December and 809 in November.
Students want the district to use the two-week distance learning period to work on a list of nine demands, including creating a metric to determine when schools should switch to distance learning. The district released a plan Tuesday stating that schools will move to temporary distance learning if more than 25% of teachers are absent.
In a statement to KARE11, St. Paul Public Schools officials said they support students taking an active role in their health, as well as students’ right to free speech. The district ordered more medical-grade masks and rapid tests for students and staff, the statement says.
The list of demands also calls on the district to continue contact tracing and requiring that people who test positive for COVID-19 isolate for 10 days.
In early January, district officials said they were considering foregoing contact tracing and dropping isolation requirements for unvaccinated students exposed to an infected person at school; last week, the district released quarantine guidelines stating that exposed students and staff would still have to isolate.
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