As Omicron increases fuel, American students stage strikes to protest in-person classes

BOSTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Hundreds of students in Boston and Chicago walked out of classrooms Friday in protests calling for a shift to distance learning as an increase in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variable disrupted efforts to return to education. individuals across the United States.

In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, the strike came two days after in-classroom teaching resumed for 340,000 students who had been out of work during a five-day work halt by union teachers pushing for tougher COVID-19 safeguards.

Protesting students said they were unhappy with additional health protocols approved by the teachers’ union earlier this week, ending a standoff with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

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“I think CPS is listening, but I’m not sure it’s going to make a change,” Jaden Horton, a freshman at Jones College Prep High School, said during a rally at the district headquarters that drew about a thousand students.

The demonstration came on the heels of student strikes in various schools across the city.

About 600 young people from 11 Boston schools took part in the student strikes there, according to the school district, which serves nearly 52,000 students. Many of the protesting students later returned to the classroom, while others returned to their homes after participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Started an online petition by top brand schools at a high school in Boston “a breeding ground for COVID-19” and calling for a distance learning option, it has collected more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

The Boston Student Advisory Council, which organized the strike, posted a series of demands on Twitter, including two weeks of online instructions and stricter COVID-19 testing for teachers and students.

Students gather outside CPS headquarters to organize one of several “mass exits for COVID safety” in high schools due to the Omicron outbreak in Chicago, Illinois, US January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Jim Wonderska

The latest wave of infections has renewed the debate over whether schools should be kept open, as officials seek to balance concerns about the highly contagious variant Omicron and fears that children may fall further behind academically after two years of stopping and starting school. The result was a patchwork of COVID-19 policies across the country that left parents feeling overwhelmed and bewildered.

Ash O’Brien, a 10th-grade student at Boston Latin School who left the building with about a dozen others on Friday, said he didn’t feel safe staying in school.

“I live with two immunocompromised grandparents,” he said. “So I don’t want to go to school, I risk getting sick and going home.”

Boston Public Schools said in a statement that it supports students who stand up for their beliefs and pledged to listen to their concerns.

Earlier this week, students at several New York City schools staged a strike to protest what they described as inadequate safety measures. Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday that his administration is considering a temporary distance learning option for a large number of students who have been staying at home.

Nearly 5,000 public schools across the country have closed for at least one day this week due to the pandemic, according to Burbio, a website that tracks school disruptions.

The Omicron eruption appears to be slowing in areas of the country that were first exposed. Last week, the average daily tally of new cases rose just 5% in the northeastern and southern states compared to the previous seven-day period, according to a Reuters analysis. In contrast, the average number of documented infections per day in western states increased by 89% in the past week compared to the previous week.

Overall, the US is still counting nearly 800,000 new infections per day amid record numbers of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

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Additional reporting by Tim McLaughlin in Boston and Eric Cox in Chiago; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford in New York, Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Merdy Nzanga in Washington. Written by Joseph X and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Otis and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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