When Eileen Cyrano The 15-year-old is back at school after the last winter break, back in nearly empty corridors, absent classmates, and what she describes as a “lifeless” atmosphere. As the days went by, fewer of her peers showed up at MetWest High School in Oakland, California. Her teachers and classmates tested positive for Covid-19, had been tested and were waiting for tests, or simply feared for their safety.
Cyrano and her friends decided that if the school did not take steps to make them feel safe coming to school, such as offering regular exams to all students, they would have to demand these measures themselves. Cyrano and her colleagues Zimina Santana, 15, and Benjamin Rendon, 15, decided to start a petition on Google Docs. Perhaps they’ll ask “a couple of students” to sign it, Rendon said. They did better than that. The petition attracted a lot of attention, and it became a story in the local television news. “I went to watch it when they aired it, and I was like, ‘” Rendon recalls.the curse. “
In Oakland and around the United States, millions of students are back in the classroom amid the escalation of the highly contagious Omicron variant. The majority of schools have pressed for in-person learning even as a record number of Covid cases occurred across the country. Chicago Public Schools canceled classes for five days during a standoff with the teachers’ union before a deal was reached to resume in-person teaching. Parents with school-aged children worry that they will not be able to go to work if schools remain closed, but they are also concerned about children becoming infected in schools, especially since the youngest still cannot be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, many students felt left out of the conversation. “I feel like my school has let me down,” says Jayden Bracey, 15, a sophomore at Denver Public Schools in Colorado. Since returning to school after winter break, he has been wary of crowded corridors between shifts and classmates who have been less careful about wearing masks. (When I spoke to him, Briese was home from school, recovering from Covid.)
His frustration is shared by 15-year-old classmate Haven Coleman. Coleman was an experienced organizer of climate action, and he was already thinking of ways to get the area’s attention when the semester began. As she scrolled through social media, she noticed other student actions starting to happen — including the petition that Cyrano, Santana, and Rendon started a thousand miles away in Oakland.
Coleman sent a text message to Pricy. They texted other colleagues about the idea of the petition; Soon, the news spread to students from another high school in Denver. Days later, a student-led petition calling for safer conditions in Denver public schools joined the chorus of similar actions from students in Boston, Chicago, New York and Oakland.
“You need to listen to us.”
Student protesters who spoke with WIRED described how they were able to reach their peers using text messaging and social media apps to help shape their demands in their school districts.
A protest in New York began as a late-night text. Cruz Warshaw, a student at Stuyvesant High School, pitched the idea to her friends Rafah Saba and Samantha Farrow, who are also young: Do you want to organize a strike to get the mayor to close schools?