More than 100 Seattle Public Schools students walked out of class Monday morning to protest the district’s decision to end the requirement that students and staff wear masks.
Many of those students rallied at district headquarters, the John Stanford Center, to ask Superintendent Brent Jones to reinstate the mask mandate districtwide. Mask requirements for Seattle and most other districts in the state ended a week ago.
The newly formed Seattle Student Union, a group of student activists who organized the rally, have been demanding stronger safety protocols since January, including that the district provide higher quality masks. The student union has been threatening a walkout since Gov. Jay Inslee announced plans to end mask requirements in schools, child care facilities and most other businesses.
The student union sent the school board and Jones a letter last week asking for mask requirements to continue.
“Every time we try to get hasty and toss our masks off, we have another spike and another thousand people die,” said Eridon Stewart, a 17-year-old senior at Nova High School who spoke at the rally. Stewart said her mother has asthma, and could die if she caught the virus. Other students also talked about the threat COVID-19 poses to family members who are immunocompromised.
Jones’ announcement that masks were optional also rattled the teachers union, which has been pushing back on the district’s decision as well. The student walkout follows a rally the Seattle Education Association held Friday. The teachers union called on the district to fix strained relationships by including teachers and students in decision making.
SEA claims the district violated a memorandum of understanding when mask requirements ended without bargaining. Union officials said the district had promised to bargain over it first.
In a statement released Monday and signed by Bev Redmond, assistant superintendent of public affairs, the district noted that its decision to no longer require masks aligns with recent guidance from the state Department of Health and Public Health — Seattle & King County. “We also realize that Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 12 lifting of the masking mandate came fast for some and without an extended time for adjustment,” the statement read. “Understandably, there are many different beliefs, opinions, reasons, and comfort levels around this decision.”
The statement said the district “supports student voice” and will help students “with reassurance, empathy, and respect for the personal choice to mask or not.”
The union is standing in solidarity with students who are walking out.
“We watched as students in our classrooms grappled with the implications of this change on their lives and the lives of their families and friends who are immunocompromised or unvaccinated,” said a statement from SEA. “Students were not given any voice in this change or how it would be implemented.”
Students need to be listened to and administrators and board members should address their demands, SEA officials said.
“What our students are feeling is a direct result of how our system is failing,” the statement said.
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