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St. Paul students walk out over district's handling of COVID-19

Tuesday afternoon, students from across Saint Paul Public Schools walked out of class and called on the district to increase COVID-19 safety measures.

ST PAUL, Minn. — On Tuesday, students from across Saint Paul Public Schools walked out of class to protest how the district is handling the latest COVID-19 outbreak.

At 1 p.m., students walked from all eight district high schools and some middle schools participated in the walkout.

Before the walkout, student organizers held a press conference where they publicly released a list of demands, which includes calling on SPPS to move to online learning for two weeks so the district can make plans for them to safely return to classrooms.

Once the two weeks are up, the students have nine demands they want to be met by the district:

  1. Create a metric with the Saint Paul Federation of Educators to temporarily shift to remote learning for individual schools that takes into account transportation availability, staffing and substitute numbers and COVID-19 positive cases at the site
  2. Provide KN95 masks for staff and students, and provide surgical masks immediately until more KN95s are available 
  3. Provide additional PCR tests for all staff to test twice weekly, regardless of vaccination status, and explore options to create a faster turnaround for staff to receive their test results
  4. Provide antigen or PCR tests for all students to test weekly
  5. Provide each school with a sufficient supply of take-home COVID-19 tests to give to any student exhibiting cold or flu symptoms and any student, staff member or school volunteer who requests one
  6. Continue contact tracing and notifying individuals who have been in close contact with people who test positive for COVID, and quarantining according to Minnesota Department of Health guidelines
  7. For individuals who test positive for COVID-19, maintain the 10-day isolation period or require two negative antigen tests to return to school/work sooner
  8. Allow schools to create a modified daily schedule to meet the needs of the students in the safest, most educationally sound manner
  9. Call on the city and county to support SPPS in finding solutions to make sure our students and families are safe

 You can read the full list of demands from the students here

"We hope that we are heard and we are seen," said Jerome Treadwell with Minnesota Teen Activists. "And if we are not heard or seen, we will continue to walk out. We will continue to involve local officials. We will continue to email and do phone banking and a plethora of things."

An online petition has already gathered more than 1,200 signatures in support of these demands. 

Students said they plan to continue holding daily walkouts until the district meets their demands.

In a statement sent to KARE11, SPPS officials said they support students' right to free speech and peaceful assembly, and support students taking an active role in their own health. Officials also listed the steps they're taking to protect the health of students and staff.

The district said it has ordered medical grade masks and N95 masks for students, along with more rapid tests for students and staff. The district added that it's developing school-specific metrics to "determine if/when a building should temporarily shift to virtual learning."

"As a district, it is our responsibility to ensure students who cannot stay home have a safe place to be, with access to food and support for online learning, as well as to provide essential in-person services for students receiving special education," SPPS  wrote. "Therefore, if any schools move to virtual learning, it will include a requirement that all staff members at the affected site(s) who are not sick or in quarantine report to work."

The district also said it will watch staffing levels and provide additional resources when they become available in order to have students and teachers return to in-person learning.

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