Students at schools across St. Paul walked out of class Tuesday in protest of the district’s lack of a “cohesive COVID-19 plan.”
St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) announced last week that it would remain open despite other schools shifting to online learning.
A group called “MN Teen Activists” responded by organizing a walkout and threatening to stage additional walkouts if the district doesn’t meet their demands.
MN Teen Activists is a nonprofit founded in 2020 that seeks “to fight systemic injustices in schools throughout Minnesota.” Jerome Treadwell serves as the “executive developer” and helped organize the SPPS walkout. Treadwell is a senior at Highland Park High School and a Concordia University commit for football.
“Our marginalized students need the adequate attention so that they can have a successful education,” Treadwell said in a video, adding that “if the district doesn’t comply to our demands … so that students will not go back to 40% failing as they did when we first rolled out our remote learning, then we will not stop walking out.”
Students across the Saint Paul School District will participate in walkout demanding administrators transition to virtual learning in light of the surge in new covid cases. Hear from @teen_mn executive director and student, Jerome Treadwell pic.twitter.com/QIPY9bJWR4
— Georgia Fort (@ByGeorgiaFort) January 18, 2022
Students have also organized a petition that has garnered more than 1,600 signatures and issued a list of nine demands. These demands include a mandatory two-week distance learning plan, providing KN95 masks for all staff and students, providing free PCR tests, and supporting the St. Paul Federation of Teachers by “working with their requests.”
“We demand that SPPS district immediately enforces 2 weeks distance learning to relieve the widespread Omicron virus in schools, which will additionally give the district time to make plans for safe student return, and to enforce our listed demands,” states the demand letter.
One parent tweeted that he was proud of his “kiddos and many others” taking part in the walkout. A teacher across the river in Minneapolis also expressed support for the walkout, saying that the superintendent is “playing games rather than protecting students.”
The district said it respects “students’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly,” and would comply with a number of demands, including access to free PCR tests and KN95 masks.
In an email to parents, the district said it has also developed a new “metric” for determining when schools will shift to distance learning.
“If on any day, a school has 25% or more of their classroom teachers absent, families will receive a notice from the school. If this absence rate is projected to continue for more than 3 days, families will be notified about a temporary shift to virtual learning,” said the email.
“We also recognize that staffing shortages in other areas and other factors may warrant an immediate shift to virtual learning. In this event, we will provide families and staff with as much notice as possible. Regular bus routes will run daily to allow students to access in-person support for virtual learning at their school,” it added.
This means some schools could see temporary shifts to distance learning, but the St. Paul Board of Education rejected a proposal Tuesday night to shift all schools to remote learning for two weeks.
St. Paul Public Schools requires all staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Studies have found that school closures do not necessarily reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they do have harmful impacts on kids.
Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.