About 60 students at North High School walked out of class on Thursday to protest the district’s COVID-19 regulations, calling them insufficient in keeping students protected against the ongoing omicron surge.
Students at Thomas Jefferson High School also walked out. The group of North High students gathered across the street from North High at Viking Park for a rally.
Carlos Rosas, a senior, was one of the organizers of the walkout at North High, which was jointly organized with Thomas Jefferson High students. Speaking on a megaphone while standing on a park bench, he thanked students who participated during the chilly Thursday.
“We are just here to show support for us as students and our faculty and staff,” Rosas said. “A lot of the teachers here at North are very scared about contracting COVID, and since we have the highest infection rates right now compared to last year, it’s a very big topic that honestly we need to talk more about.”
The city’s data shows it had a seven-day case rate of 1,400.3 per 100,000 people as of Jan. 16, which is higher than at any point in 2021 or 2020.
Rosas said teachers are following COVID-19 regulations like masking, but he added some of the younger students aren’t necessarily taking it seriously. He said some students who call in sick with coronavirus aren’t being supported, and it’s affecting their attendance and ability to get help from teachers.
“We just want to push out the agenda that, ‘Hey, this is very serious, you should take this seriously,'” Rosas said.
Camron Garza, a freshman at North who participated in the walkouts, said that while some teachers are strict about the indoor mask wearing requirement, other teachers don’t seem to care.
“We’re not hoping for online (learning), we’re hoping for stricter rules,” Garza said, adding he would like to see more enforcement of the district’s regulations.
In a letter addressed and sent to Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero and school board members this month, DPS students listed some of the ways the district could keep them and staff safe. Students are asking that the district provide KN95 or N95 masks to all students, providing twice a week PCR and rapid testing for students attending in-person classes, and integrating learning for people at home with COVID-19 or those students attending class virtually from home.
An online petition listing the demands had gathered more than 700 signatures by Thursday morning. Rosas encouraged his classmates to sign it.
In a statement, Denver Public Schools said it plans to keep in-person learning in place and that it is monitoring COVID case rates. The district also said it planned to provide more KN95 masks to school staff and students.
“We certainly understand our students’ frustrations. This is a very difficult time for schools right now, here in Denver and across the state and country. But our scholars and families rely on our schools, and we need to do everything we can to keep them open for in-person learning and support. Too much time has already been lost to the pandemic,” the statement reads.
The spring semester began earlier this month and students returned to in-person learning despite a surge in cases largely fueled by the omicron variant.