NYC students walk out, demand better COVID safety, short-term remote option

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NEW YORK (WPIX) — New York City students took on frigid temperatures and walked out of school on Tuesday, one by one raising health and safety concerns as COVID-19 cases continued to surge.

More students have tested positive since the winter break than compared to the entire academic year so far.

On Monday, more than 14,000 new cases — 11,800 students and 2,300 staff members — were reported.

Students at University Neighborhood High School in Manhattan were among those who took part in the walkout. A sophomore who identified herself as Lauren G said she helped organize the protest with support from her principal and her mother.

“It hurts seeing so many students missing from class,” she said.

Parent and activist Naomi Peña said the city needs to increase testing at schools.

“We need to test everyone. We need better social distancing and a remote option. There are families who have not sent their kids back to school yet because the parent or child doesn’t feel safe,” she said.

While some families asked for campus closures and a short-term remote option, city leaders argued that school shutdowns would not stop the spread of COVID-19 with the highly transmissible omicron variant.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told WPIX that the health and safety of students and staff are a top priority for the agency.

“We understand the concerns of our school communities during this crisis and wholeheartedly support civic engagement among New York City students,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “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. Student voice is key and we’ll continue to listen to and work closely with those most impacted by our decisions — our students.”

The protests are the latest in clashes over how schools should operate during the pandemic, with some advocating for hybrid and remote options to protect people from the coronavirus and others arguing that a lack of in-person learning hinders students’ education.

On Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union tentatively agreed to accept a deal that allowed schools to reopen Wednesday after the nation’s third-largest school district canceled five days of classes amid a standoff with the teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Union members had until Wednesday afternoon to decide whether to approve the agreement or refuse in hopes of restarting talks with the city.

Psychotheraprist and author Niro Feliciano shared tips with WPIX on how parents can talk to their kids effectively. Watch the full interview below:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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