The magic minute for high school students around the city and in Dorchester on Friday, Jan. 14, was at 10:30 a.m. That’s when Boston’s high schoolers staged a massive “walk-out” to draw attention to the lack of COVID-19 safety measures in their schools – pointing particularly at Gov. Charlie Baker and his Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
At the Henderson K-12 School on Croftland Avenue in Dorchester, Xyra Mercer — a senior at the school and student representative on the school committee — said they hoped to be taken seriously and heard.
“We hope this walk-out will make the governor and DESE do something and not say it was just a bunch of kids, as he has called us before,” said Mercer, in front of the Henderson. “A lot of people in the commonwealth who are adults are also pushing for this, such as teachers and staff and state representatives.”
The walk-out did go beyond the Henderson, where about 75 to 80 kids walked out at 10:30 a.m. with the plan of seeking out a place to go online and participate in an online Webinar, some testimony, and a public comment time. At Roxbury Crossing, where Madison Park and the John D. O’Bryant high schools are located, hundreds if not thousands of kids — many from Dorchester and Mattapan — poured out of the two schools at 10:30 a.m. Three news helicopters hovered overhead, and news crews were gathered to catch the action there.
At the Henderson, many of students said they were “kind of worried” about the lack of precautions in the school, particularly the cafeteria.
Mercer said the overall effort was aimed at getting high filtration masks provided to students and teachers, having a two-week cooling period online to stop the current spread, and making sure the lunchroom/cafeteria was COVID-19 safe and friendly.
Mercer said a big concern for many kids throughout Boston Public Schools (BPS) that she has spoken with is the extended family situations. She said that while she is worried about COVID for herself, she and others are more concerned about their relatives. In her case, she lives with older grandparents and a cousin who has severe asthma. If she were to bring home COVID to them from school, she said she would be devastated, a sentiment shared by a lot of students in the district.
“At this point I’d much rather focus on my education than this, but you have to think about the other people you live with too,” she said. “I have to make sure they are ok too when I come home.”
One of the more controversial ideas within the student body, the school communities, and with some teachers, is the call for a two-week online school period. They are asking that schools go remote for two weeks to stop the spread of COVID in the schools, and that the state would count those days as official school days – which they do not now.
“We’re asking that these two weeks online be put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and that they be counted as official days by the state,” she said. “None of us want it to spread further than it has.”
She added that students do not want to have the online session last more than two weeks, and they are clear in wanting to return to school after that cooling off period. She said students do not want to return to online school indefinitely.
On Friday afternoon, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley issued a statement in support of the Boston students.
“Our ongoing COVID-19 response must always center the health, safety and wellbeing of our young people," Pressley stated. "I stand in solidarity with the students demanding stronger COVID-19 safety measures, including remote learning flexibilities, and I urge Governor Baker and Secretary Riley to heed their calls.
“All students and educators deserve to be safe and healthy in school. The Baker Administration’s refusal to provide much-needed flexibilities for schools facing record staffing shortages and surges in cases is dangerous, and they must reverse course.”
This story originally appeared in The Dorchester Reporter.