Students band together for county-wide walkouts

Feb. 23, 2022, 7:16 p.m. | By Samuale Asefa | 2 years, 4 months ago

Students, teachers, and parents are unsatisfied with the decision to keep proximate learning

Blair students protesting (photo courtesy of Iris Montgomery)

“County, hear our voice! Our health is not your choice!” This was just one of the echoing chants in the Blair staff parking lot at the walkout on Jan. 21 in support of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) switching to virtual school. Students all across the county were frustrated with the school system’s handling of mitigating Covid-19, so they organized a county-wide walkout in protest of the county’s inability to switch. 

Despite that the Omicron variant has already reached its peak in Montgomery County, students, teachers and parents believe that the county has been putting students and teachers in harm’s way, because of the county’s determination to keep schools open. Many have hoped for MCPS to switch to virtual learning for at least two weeks to probe the situation and see if it’s genuinely safe to keep students in school.

Students organized the walkout to push their support of a transition to remote learning. Junior Kendra Williams is one of the John F. Kennedy High School walkout organizers, and on the day after the walkout, she spoke on pushing more funding for teachers. “We want the county to put more money into tools to make remote learning easier for teachers whether they decide to make the switch or not since there are still students out there learning through Zoom,” Williams said.

County Executive Marc Elrich attempted to alleviate those feelings of uneasiness when it comes to in-person school with solutions, such as a hybrid option that allows parents to make the decision of keeping their children in school or switching them to remote learning. 

The hybrid option allows parents to make the decision on whether or not their student should stay in school, and if students feel uncomfortable they can make their own efforts with their parents to switch them out. 

After Elrich introduced the option at the county board Zoom meeting, it seemed that students were somewhat satisfied since they changed the location of the walkout from Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the staff parking lot. However, the walkout still occurred, which was representative of the frustration that still stood within the community.

Junior Xavier Eiff-Waters planned to attend the walkout, but after the hybrid option was introduced and the location was altered, he changed his mind. “I feel like running around in circles in front of Blair won’t really change anything; [Blair] isn’t the one making the big decisions for the county,” he said. 

Sophomore Blazer and walkout organizer Mars Moreno argues that the hybrid option isn’t a real solution and that it is something the county created to keep MCPS staff and students satisfied for a bit. “If most people are staying at Blair, I don’t think students would want to be left out and stay home, unless [their] parents force them to,” Moreno says.

Elrich revealed that the hybrid option also applies to teachers. If a staff member comes down with a sickness, they will be able to teach at school. However, walkout organizers felt that teachers are ill-equipped, and the organizers established that more funding for tools for virtual learning is one of the main goals they are fighting for.

The hybrid option has recently been rescinded for students and families who feel unsafe attending in-person school. Students are still given virtual resources to attend classes when infected with the virus, but the ability to choose based on their fear of Covid has been completely revoked.

“I’ve talked to teachers at Blair and most of them tell me horror stories of struggles they went through during virtual school, but [most of them] still support the two weeks of virtual; teachers and students want to leave, so why not just support them to do that?” Moreno says. Moreno also references the no-confidence vote made by the MCPS teacher union on then-Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s handling of the county, which furthers claims of staff dissatisfaction. 

There are teachers at Blair that are a bit more satisfied with the county’s handling of Covid and believe that they are making the right decision by keeping in-person learning in place. CAP teacher and MCPS parent Marc Grossman fully supports the decision to stay in schools; Grossman believes that the last year of virtual school has had too many negative effects on students for the county to try again.

In his Bethesda Beat op-ed, Grossman highlights the negative impact virtual school has had on students and people in general. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, mental health and substance abuse have worsened due to the isolation many faced over the height of the pandemic. So Grossman’s question is, why would they go back?

On top of the mental health issues, students were also less focused due to the minimal connection with teachers during online learning. Despite these downsides, the MCPS community still seems to value their safety concerning COVID more. Grossman believes this mindset is due to a place of privilege many come from.“[The walkout] seems redundant with cases decreasing, and those who want [remote] learning forget that last year was hell for students with Internet problems,” Grossman says. 

Staff at many other schools supported organizers by setting up the walkout in a safe manner, which allowed students to properly voice their concerns on school property. “[Principal] Johnson was actually really supportive about the whole thing; she even [got] Security to monitor the protest,” Monero stated. 

Blair administration’s acceptance of student protest has not been replicated by other schools involved in the walkout. The staff at Kennedy High School were not in support of the protest and even threatened in-school suspension as a punishment to those who attended the walkout. 

Organizers were extremely frustrated with Kennedy, especially Williams, given that she was the head coordinator of Kennedy’s walkout. She explained the confusion that was set on that day since administrators went from supporting the walkout to suddenly switching to enforcing consequences to attendees. 

“[The school stopping the walkout] not only makes me feel like they don’t care about our safety but it also shows that they don’t care about us making our voices heard. We will organize a better walkout when we have our actual principal at the school instead of an intern,” Williams said. 

Kennedy’s walkout still occurred with a turnout of around 20 people, despite all the staff attempting to inhibit their protest process. With cases decreasing, it doesn’t seem that the county will be placed into remote learning anytime soon. 

Last updated: Feb. 24, 2022, 1:14 p.m.

Samuale Asefa. Hello! My name is Sam and I'm a writer for SCO. I am a self-proclaimed movie buff and love listening to all types of music. More »

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Lee — 2 years, 4 months ago

Funny these are the people demanding the shot. Also the pictured kids are not 6 feet apart lol.

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