As Omicron fuels surge, US students stage walkouts to protest in-person classes

By Tim Mclaughlin and Eric Cox

BOSTON/CHICAGO, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Hundreds of students in Boston and Chicago walked out of classes on Friday in protests demanding a switch to remote learning as a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant disrupted efforts at returning to in-person education around the United States.

In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, the walkout came two days after in-classroom instruction resumed for 340,000 students who were idled during a five-day work stoppage by unionized teachers pressing for tougher COVID-19 safeguards.

Protesting students said they were dissatisfied with the additional health protocols the teachers union agreed to earlier this week, ending its standoff with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“I think CPS is listening, but I’m not sure they’ll make a change,” said Jaden Horten, a junior at Jones College Prep High School, during a rally at district headquarters that drew around a thousand students.

The demonstration followed student walkouts at various schools around the city.

About 600 young people from 11 Boston schools participated in student walkouts there, according to the school district, which serves nearly 52,000 pupils. Many protesting students returned to classrooms later, while others went home after taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

An online petition started by a Boston high school senior branding schools a “COVID-19 breeding ground” and calling for a remote learning option had collected more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

The Boston Student Advisory Council, which organized the walkout, posted a series of demands on Twitter, including two weeks of online instruction and more stringent COVID-19 testing for teachers and students.

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