Taking an entire school remote involves difficult trade-offs. For instance, a conservative student group at Georgetown’s law school recently criticized the school’s decision to start its spring semester virtually, arguing that “motivation, mental health, socialization, and the quality of education provided are suffering.” The high-school students organizing walkouts aren’t proposing that their schools go remote indefinitely, but rather that schools and students be able to do so temporarily, while case counts are higher than at any previous point in the pandemic. They’re concerned for their own safety, but also worried about bringing the virus home to a family member. Mia Dabney, a 17-year-old who helped organize a student rally in Seattle, told me that she has multiple relatives with asthma. “It overwhelms me thinking about my grandparents and my family and making sure they’re protected,” she said.
What’s more, a couple of students I spoke with said that they knew of classmates who had tested positive but gone to school anyway, and that students have been on their own in determining whether they’ve been exposed. They effectively have had to work as their own informal contact-tracing teams, asking around about peers’ test results and monitoring social media for indications of COVID cases. Pizarro said that she only discovered she had been sitting near a COVID-positive student when she later learned from a friend about his status; she said the school didn’t inform her. (Her school didn’t respond to my request for comment.)
Many students are also uncomfortable with crowded cafeterias. Lunchtime means sharing an indoor space with maskless classmates. “You’re in one closed room and there’s a thousand kids sitting there,” Lehther, from Round Rock High School, said. She and her fellow organizers are asking that the district provide outdoor dining options at all of its schools. (Currently, they’re available at some.)