Sick and Tired

Franklin’s fight against Omicron.

The battle for student safety is constant, and during a pandemic it is especially difficult to maintain. The topic of how best to insure student safety in schools has become a hot button issue with the emergence of the new Omicron variant. This debate had seemingly come to an end, but with a new spike in COVID-19 cases (cases in King county have increased by 50% since Thanksgiving), U.S. schools’ approach to controlling the virus may need to be re-assessed. Franklin High School in Seattle has seen a massive surge in COVID-19 cases upon returning to school after winter break, with fifty-two individual cases within the first week. Schools across the district have seen similar spikes in their cases as well, due to the new, highly-transmissible Omicron variant. This pattern has been the cause for concern among students, families, and teachers alike. 

Franklin senior Delano Cordova was one of the key organizers in a “sick-out” at his school on Friday, January 14th. The community also hosted a rally to support the cause. The goal of this protest was to have their established set of demands heard by members of the district school board. These demands were for schools to provide N95 masks for all, require and issue weekly COVID-19 testing at schools, provide COVID-19 vaccines (including booster shots), hire one mental-health worker per thirty students, continue contact tracing measures, and for the district’s COVID-19 dashboard to be updated daily. 

“The plan for the protest, or the sickout, was to go and say what we have problems with at the school and tell the school district that we don’t feel safe right now. And in order to go back in-person and feel safe, this is what we need,” Cordova said.

In addition to the sick-out, they created an online petition to garner student support for the demands (see QR code). 

Teachers at Franklin have also been doing their part to support the cause. “Staff at Franklin have been very much in support of this movement. A lot of teachers have been reposting our demands and our petition to get the word out there,” Cordova said. 

Educators have also used their elevated position to amplify student voices. “There’s a lot of teachers that are also in organizations that have invited us to speak at a meeting to help notify people that there are things that the students want,” Cordova said.

“The school board has not confirmed or denied that they’ve accepted our demands, though we do know that some of the demands had already been put in motion before [the sick-out],” Cordova said. 

Despite not having issued a direct response, the school board has begun to facilitate changes. “We do know that the school board definitely hears us, and definitely wants some of this to be student-led rather than district-led,” Cordova said.

Students and staff are anxious to see what will come in the wake of these protests and recent school closures, and how it will change procedures and use of preventative actions as the school year continues.