Last week, hundreds of students at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York walked out of school and off campus in a show of protest against COVID policies.

Just before noon on Jan. 11, students from one of the most prestigious schools in the city left to protest city policies that have stopped the closure of classrooms, forcing students to remain in class unless they are ill, and issuing rapid tests should students be immediately exposed to a COVID-positive classmate.

“To be honest, I’ve already gotten like four COVID tests. I mean doesn’t that show enough?” student Shuhana Uddin told Spectrum News NY1. “If we’re going to constantly be giving tests out, is there ever going to be an end to this? I just can’t take it anymore.”

A growing wave of students across the country appear to feel the same way: Student organizers at schools across the United States have staged walkouts, started petitions and threatened strikes of their schools unless their demands for more stringent COVID protocols are met.

In some cases, the schools have met those demands; in others, all they can do is explain the realities they’re facing and hope the students understand. And in still others, the districts are playing hardball, staring down teachers and students alike.

Oakland, Calif.

Like many of her classmates, Blue Lopez, a sophomore at Oakland Unified School District’s Fremont High School, felt the familial impact of the pandemic firsthand over winter break.

Blue’s seven-month-old baby sister, born two months prematurely, was taken to the emergency room after contracting the virus — and was sent home in short order with some medicine.

“I don’t blame the hospital at all ... but they didn’t have any space, because so many kids and babies were sick with COVID that they didn’t have room for her,” Blue told Spectrum News.

The district itself has felt a similar sting. Oakland teachers staged a sickout on Jan. 7, forcing the district to close 12 schools; a week later, another sickout led to nine schools closing. On Tuesday, three schools were closed following another sickout, a school official said. According to KPIX, school staff feel that they’re “being thrown away out to the wolves to fend for ourselves.”

For the week of Jan. 10, OUSD counted 823 student cases and 55 staff cases; according to the school district’s COVID data dashboard — updated weekly — only one elementary school site had zero COVID cases between Jan. 10 and Jan. 16. Every other site — not including Early Childhood, Alternative, and Special Education sites — had at least one case that week; Reach Academy elementary school had 35 cases, while Fremont High had 40 cases.

A group of student organizers, including Blue, feel much the same. On Jan. 10, students circulated a petition with three demands: KN95 or N95 masks for every student; twice-weekly PCR and rapid COVID tests for all people on campuses; and more outdoor spaces for people to eat safely.

The students plan to strike indefinitely, by refusing to attend school, starting Jan. 18. As of Jan. 18, the petition has 1,211 student signatures. (A district spokesperson was unable to confirm how many students may have participated in such a strike as of the time of publication.)

Thus far, the students have been successful with two of their demands: The district announced on Jan. 11 that 200,000 KN95 masks had been ordered for students, and that it was sourcing more; It also announced that each employee will have at least five high-quality masks and an additional 50,000 masks will be provided to all school sites and the district office.

The district also said that it has increased filtration and circulation in all cafeterias, provided portable air filters to all classrooms, and ordered tables and shade for outdoor dining. However, a district spokesperson said its moves were in place before students made their demands known.

But the students' demand for on-campus COVID tests is surmounted by the national demand for tests, said OUSD’s school board vice president.

“I believe the district is doing everything we can, given shortages across the country right now, but we seek to provide as much testing as possible,” Sam Davis told Spectrum News.

It’s not a matter of money, he said — the district has benefitted from significant COVID relief funding — it’s a matter of what’s available. Masks were reasonably easy to get, but tests, however, are in very short supply.

Though Davis hopes that the students elect not to strike, he has been impressed by them: "The demands the students have raised are smart demands. They’re based on science, baed on what students need to feel safer, and I was glad to be able to talk to them."

According to a district spokesperson, OUSD feels that it has very clearly met student demands, repeatedly calling OUSD’s COVID testing program “robust” in a Jan. 18 call with reporters.

The district has testing sites at 10 of its 81 school sites, and provided more than 12,000 COVID tests during the week of Jan. 10, according to a district dashboard.

“Our understanding from our experts that we talk to is that rapid tests are every bit as good as PCR tests at detecting Omicron,” said district spokesperson John Sasaki. “There are capacity issues at work, but we are doing everything we can to make sure testing is available at all times.”

According to a letter to the community issued on Tuesday, the district said will continue to assign tests to some schools for onsite testing “as frequently as possible,” with twice-weekly testing at some schools, and once-weekly testing at others, without further elaboration.

When reached for comment, Blue said that student leaders would continue to push for twice-weekly PCR tests at all school sites as a matter of equity. “Some kids don’t have rides to go to the hubs…some kids don’t have cars, some kids don’t know how to drive, some families are too busy,” she said.

It’s yet unclear if the district will punish the students for the strike. Sasaki said that the students are simply viewed as “unexcused absences.”

Blue said that board members were supportive, but that the district hasn’t threatened punishment, but she was resolute against those insisting that school must continue despite a potential rise in cases.

Redondo Beach, Calif.

Raymur Flinn got a touch of great news on Wednesday. The Redondo Beach Unified School District — the district she represents as school board president — had just been named by a community-ranking company as the sixth-best district in Los Angeles.

“I got that, and I laughed and started to cry,” Flinn told Spectrum News.

On any other day, that would’ve been the biggest news in their otherwise quiet, seaside city — if not for the student-led walkout, protesting COVID measures at the high school, later that same morning.

A few hundred Redondo Union High School students walked out of their classrooms on Wednesday during a study hall period, congregating in a central courtyard in an action organized by an anonymous, student-run Instagram account.

The account, RUHSCovid, only has one picture posted on its feed — from the day of the walkout — but the account's Instagram Stories are regularly updated with its concerns about COVID’s Omicron variant, with public data, and with walkout information. The account’s chief concern, based on its posts, is that the schools are open at all.

“Omicron is being tremendously downplayed by our leaders so they can make an extra buck,” one post read. “We’re not asking for a major shutdown, just a 2-3 week break from in person learning.”

(California’s school funding formula depends, in large part, on average daily attendance)

No one has yet publicly claimed the account, but two students — senior Michael Lee-Chang and senior Gisselle Frisby — addressed the school board the night before the walkout, according to the local Easy Reader newspaper.

“I’m vaccinated, I’m not really worried for my own well-being,” Lee-Chang said at the board meeting. “I’m more worried about the two adults in my house who can actually get really sick. Even teachers at school, I feel like they’re taking a huge risk.”

District Superintendent Dr. Steven Keller told Spectrum News that he and Flinn met with Lee-Chang and Frisby and addressed their concerns.

Flinn told Spectrum News that the students wanted “clarification and understanding” as to why the district wasn’t offering a remote learning option.

“There was a hint that we were hustling to increase our average daily attendance,” Keller said. “But what we’re learning in COVID that schools are not necessarily going to lose those dollars.” State legislators, he said, are advocating for what Keller called a “hold-harmless” for attendance during COVID.

The RUHSCovid account described the protest as a “failure and a success at the same time.” (The owner of the account did not respond to a request for an interview from Spectrum News.)

Organizers expected between 40 and 50 students protesting the school’s COVID measures, and for those students to be “serious,” rather than disruptive — reports noted that some students walked out with speakers blasting music, with one waving a flag with rapper Nicki Minaj’s face on it.

“We were not equipped or prepared for the onslaught of students who attended. I understand the dangers of many unmasked students grouped together, and trust me, this was not our intentions,” the post read. “However, many brave Seahawks didn’t let distractions interfere with how they felt. Because of their bold actions, the walkout was not an utter waste of time.”


Scores of students in Boston’s Public School District walked out of class on Friday, including a small number of students from Boston Latin School, to “send a message to the state,” a student said during a School Committee hearing earlier this week, per local outlet WBZ.

The students are pushing for a temporary return to remote learning, many citing what they deemed to be unsafe learning conditions as COVID cases spike across the city and state. Over 48,000 school teachers, staff and students tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 6 - 12, according to data released Thursday.

Among the list of requests, as was shared on Twitter by the Boston Student Advisory Council, includes a return to remote learning for two weeks; proper PPE for teachers; increased testing requirements and that remote learning days would count towards the 180 days of school learning as required by the state government.

“The conditions right now aren’t as safe as we would like them to be. We think that the conditions could be improved,” one student reportedly told the School Committee. “So we’d just like the Boston Public Schools and the state to take notice of that and to change the policies right now.”

Despite mounting pressure from both students and teachers unions, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday pushed back against requests to return to remote learning, saying: “We should be doing everything we can to be sure that kids get that 180 days of in person learning, because it’s critically important not just to their educational development but their development, period.”

"If the school districts cannot open at some point over the course of the year, they can use snow days until they run out of snow days," Baker added. "But they do need to provide their kids with 180 days of in-person education this year.”

The Boston Public School District on Friday released a statement praising the students for performing their civic duty, writing in part: “Boston Public Schools believes deeply in students advocating for what they believe in. We further believe it is critically important that we encourage and support them in expressing their concerns, beliefs and positions to their leaders.”

“We will continue to listen to our students and families as we navigate this latest surge and the impacts it has on our ability to remain in person and deliver a quality education,” the statement concluded.


Around 1,000 students in the Chicago Public School system walked out of school on Friday to protest in front of the Chicago Public School headquarters to demand a remote learning option for schools as omicron cases skyrocket across the city.

Students had just returned to in-person learning on Wednesday following a weeklong standoff between the school district and the teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols. The full membership of the Chicago Teachers Union narrowly gave their stamp of approval to the hard-fought safety plan that includes expanded testing and metrics to shut down individual schools during outbreaks. It passed with roughly 56% of the vote.

“This agreement covers only a portion of the safety guarantees that every one of our school communities deserve,” Union President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement following the vote. “Our members’ vote today represents a union’s, and a city’s, frustration with a mayor that has simmered since the beginning of this pandemic.”

Students similarly don’t think the union sufficiently listened to their demands, according to a new list released by Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance, or Chi-RADS, the group organizing Friday’s protest which is an “organization of allied, radical CPS high schoolers from every corner of the city,” per the group’s Twitter account.

The group is demanding, in part, that a return to remote learning be an option due to the amount of both students and staff who have contracted COVID-19. As of Thursday, over 2,300 school staff and more than 12,800 students were either in isolation or quarantine after testing positive or being exposed to the virus, per state data.

Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot repeatedly refused to agree to remote learning districtwide. She also opposed teachers’ demands for a testing program that could randomly test all students unless their parents opted out.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.