COVID is ravaging schools nationwide, with children, public school workers, and their families at risk. The Biden administration and the Democrat-led establishment in cities across the nation are failing to even acknowledge the problem, let alone fight for any real protections for teachers, students, and families. Teachers trying to organize for real solutions at their schools are being punished with school closures by penny-pinching Districts, with students paying the price, and Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is no exception. SPS has forced schools to stay open and in-person despite demands from teachers for a District-wide move to remote learning for 2 weeks as the COVID infection rate climbed. As a result of this policy, 9 SPS school buildings have been forced to close in the past 2 days due to high absence rates among teachers and students, only 6 of which went remote. This will continue to happen in a chaotic and unplanned way, and student learning will continue to suffer, as long as schools are forced to stay open without adequate safety measures.
Today’s student walkouts are a courageous show of leadership by young people who are ready to fight to protect their families, their teachers, their communities, and their own right to quality public education in a safe and healthy environment. There are things that the District and Seattle’s Democratic establishment can do – and must do – immediately: N95 masks, weekly testing, and the ability to get vaccinated at school are all basic steps that will help slow the alarming spread of this current COVID wave in our schools.
SPS has shamefully responded to these urgent and totally reasonable demands by closing some schools altogether, forcing teachers and students to make up days in the summer and saddling working parents with out-of-school children.
To all the young people who took a risk to stand up for themselves and their communities by walking out today, thank you for your leadership. Your fellow students across the country are in this fight with you. Teachers and their unions, students, and community members are demanding basic actionable safety measures. Districts and Democratic elected officials are either ignoring these demands, which in itself is shocking given the lives and livelihoods at stake, but even more egregious, retaliating against entire school communities by closing schools.
We must build the movement to win. We should be prepared to organize more and bigger student walkouts, coordinated across the city, with organized support from teachers, the labor movement, and community members. Socialist Alternative and my Council office stand unequivocally with you in this struggle, and we will do whatever we can to help build it.
A mass meeting of students and rank-and-file public school union members to discuss an escalation plan to win the following demands is urgently needed.
Immediate transition to two weeks of remote learning–not canceled school–so that the district can implement the following safety measures:
- KN95 or higher masks for all
- Weekly testing of staff and students
- COVID Vaccines available at schools, including boosters
- For teachers, COVID leave that does not come out of sick leave, and for students and teachers to be expected to quarantine for 10 days–not 5–without penalty
- A full-time nurse and counselor in every building
- Additional working HEPA filters for all spaces that need them
- Increase substitute pay so that classes are covered when teachers are absent