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NYC students walk out of classes en masse over allegedly unsafe learning conditions, demand remote learning. City leaders offer wholehearted support.

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Image Source: New York Daily News / Contributor

Hundreds of New York City high schoolers staged a mass walkout Tuesday in protest of supposedly unsafe learning conditions in the city's schools. Meanwhile, city leaders — rather than discouraging the students from leaving — offered them their "wholehearted support."

What happened?

At 11:52 a.m. on Tuesday, scores of students across New York City's five boroughs got up from their seats and exited their school buildings to "urge NYC to offer the necessary remote learning options and safety precautions as COVID cases rise."

The "NYC Student Walkout for COVID Safety" demonstration was the result of a coordinated campaign planned by activists on social media.

According to the Gothamist, a day before the walkout, on Jan. 10, the city reported 11,825 COVID cases among students, amounting to about 1.2% of the 930,000-person student body, and 2,298 cases among staff.

Though it was not immediately clear how many students participated in the walkout, the New York Daily News reported that an estimated 600 teens poured out of Brooklyn Technical High School, the city’s largest school. Hundreds more from other schools also participated, according to local news reports.

“It doesn’t feel safe to be in school, to be honest," one sophomore student told the Daily News. "In my classes, half the classes aren’t there. Some have COVID, some are afraid of COVID, and the school just isn’t doing anything about it.”

Another 16-year-old student told the Gothamist, “Students like me that have parents that are immunocompromised, students that are themselves immunocompromised, I can't imagine how anxious they are to go into a building and feel like they're putting their lives at risk every day."

Still another student shared the participants' demands with the Gothamist in a phone interview, saying, “The main goal we have is to have a temporary shutdown of schools in NYC and a hybrid option for students who have food insecurities or who need child care. We also want more COVID testing for students and staff and an improved [Department of Education] health screening."

It was not clear whether that student, Samantha Farrow, reportedly a junior at Stuyvesant High School, was one of the student leaders in charge of the campaign.

What was the reaction?

One would think the adults in the room (city) would step up amid the walkout to make it clear to students that they aren't the ones in charge. But instead, some education officials took the opposite approach.

In a statement, the NYC Department of Education said officials “wholeheartedly support civic engagement among New York City students.”

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our school communities, and we’ve doubled in-school testing and deployed 5 million rapid tests to quickly identify cases, stop transmission, and safely keep schools open," said department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon in a statement."

She added that "student voice is key and we’ll continue to listen to and work closely with those most impacted by our decisions — our students."

NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks echoed a similar sentiment in a tweet posted after the walkout, offering to meet with student leaders to work on a solution.

Some students across the city were reportedly warned prior to the demonstration not to take part in it. Others were given detention for walking off school grounds and cutting class. But most reportedly received no punishment at all.

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