DENVER — Students at two Denver high schools walked out Thursday morning to protest the district's COVID-19 policies and demand changes.
The students at Denver North and Thomas Jefferson high schools walked out before 10 a.m., a week after a student's Change.org petition pushed for changes to the Denver Public Schools (DPS) COVID-19 rules amid a rise in cases due to the omicron variant.
The petition was posted by student Haven Coleman and had 737 signatures as of Thursday.
"We wanted to make sure all students have access to a safer school environment, especially with the rise in COVID cases there is no change in how the district has been managing it," Coleman said Thursday morning. "We need things to change so we don't have to go online for long periods of time."
In the petition, Coleman said students don't feel safe with in-person learning and made several demands:
- KN95/N95 masks for all students on campus
- Ventilation in all classrooms and airflow
- Semiweekly PCR and rapid testing for in-person students
- Remote learning for students with COVID and choosing to stay home
- Access to more outdoor spaces at lunch
- More social distancing measures in hallways and stairs
A statement from DPS, which has more than 90,000 students total, said the district understands students' frustrations but that the district is doing everything it can to keep schools open for in-person learning.
"We have strong safeguards in place, high vaccination rates across our schools, and we're increasing the availability of N95 masks to staff and scholars," says the statement. "Given these safeguards and the needs of our scholars and families, we remain committed to keeping our doors open to serve our community."
In a letter to Coleman, DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero said that masks are available for staff and students and that the district has worked during the pandemic to improve air circulation and filtration. Marrero said DPS hasn't moved forward with surveillance testing due to limited impact and that schools can use temporary remote learning when necessary.
Coleman said she hoped the walkout would show the district just how many students are concerned.
"They need to see how many students really do care," she said. "Because they think it's a handful of students and some people signing a signature but they need to see there are schools that really need this."
The principals of Denver North and Thomas Jefferson high schools, Scott Wolf and Mike Christoff, both said they're open to meeting with students about their concerns.
A statement from the DPS Board of Education said board members support Superintendent Alex Marrero and his leadership team:
"DPS has increased efforts to provide safeguards inside our schools, including increasing the availability of N95 masks to staff and students. Additionally, health experts continue to back district efforts to keep schools open, as we know how important it is for students to receive socioemotional support and a learning environment provided by school personnel. We understand the challenges of dealing with the uncertainty and ongoing disruptions caused by COVID and remain committed to working together to keep schools open to serve our students and greater community."
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