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Seattle students rally outside school district headquarters over COVID safety concerns

Students of Seattle Public School are conducting a "sickout" outside the district's headquarters Friday to demand more safety amid the recent COVID surge.

SEATTLE — The surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant is continuing to impact schools across western Washington, especially the state's largest school district. 

As Seattle Public Schools (SPS) closes more campuses and adds more classes to remote learning Friday, there is frustration among students who believe more could be done by the district to make conditions safer and ease transitions to remote learning.

Some students staged a sickout Friday at SPS Headquarters in the city's SODO neighborhood. Dozens of individuals began gathering around 11 a.m. to demand the district make campuses safer and prevent more schools from being closed.

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Some Franklin High School students have said they may protest on Tuesday if they don’t see more safety on campus. 

They started an online petition, which has received more than 700 signatures, sharing some of the things they would like to see. They are hoping for more access to N95 masks, booster shots and mental health counselors.

SPS released a statement Friday in light of the sickout and planned protest saying the district "welcomes student voice." 

"We recognize the fear and anxiety around this dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in our community. SPS will not compromise the health and safety of students and staff,"  the district's statement reads in part.

SPS said that it is following public health guidance, with officials recommending that remote learning only be a last resort. 

On Friday morning, SPS closed all of its interagency high schools and canceled classes for the day, citing high absentee and quarantine rates.

In addition to the interagency high schools, which is a group of 11 sites, the district has also closed three other high schools Friday and transitioned eight other schools to remote learning. Six of the now remote schools won't go back to in-person learning for at least another week. 

Earlier this week, SPS shared the conditions under which it would consider remote learning, including a scenario in which the whole district would return to remote learning if 25% or more of its schools were already there. 

The Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union representing SPS teachers and staff, said it stands with the students ensuring the district meets their needs. 

The union also released a statement Friday morning that reads in part, "What our students are feeling is a direct result of how our system is failing. We need to take heed and do better. Let’s commit our responses to this pandemic to address their stated demands and ask."

Check school closures and delays across western Washington.