Stuyvesant Students Organize Citywide Walkout
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Classrooms once packed with students and teachers have been replaced with a new reality. As the spread of the Omicron variant surged throughout New York City, many classrooms were left emptier than usual due to an increase in absences and a shortage of staff members to keep schools functioning. Though some specialized high schools, such as Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School, have had higher attendance rates than the averages, this trend is not reflected throughout all public schools. The citywide attendance rate as of January 19 was 81 percent.
In light of these circumstances, juniors Samantha Farrow, Rifah Saba, and Cruz Warshaw organized a citywide walkout to garner public attention for a temporary closure of schools until it becomes safer to attend. ¨Our goal is to temporarily close schools for one or two weeks so that we won’t have to use the shutting down of schools as a last resort like last [year] and face months of remote learning. I’d rather face one or two weeks of remote learning rather than an extended period of remote learning,” Saba said.
The walkout occurred January 11 at 11:52 a.m. and was designed for students citywide to collectively leave schools to protest against the continuation of school openings. Over 20 schools participated in the walkout, with some schools, like Brooklyn Tech, having over 400 students walk out. “A walkout is much more disruptive,” Farrow said. “Doing it in the middle of the day and visually seeing [students] walk out has a big visual impact.”
Given the visual impact, the organizers hoped a walkout would bring more exposure to the Omicron surge in schools and lead to governmental action. “We were trying to garner the attention of people in power like policymakers and government officials, so we needed as much attention as possible,” Saba said. “It was successful in getting the attention of policymakers. The chancellor had representatives reach out to us, but that’s just the first step, so I would say our work isn’t done yet.”
The momentum and support for the walkout came largely from social media and widespread sharing. “It was citywide, so we organized it on social media just to get the word out really quickly and that’s the most effective way to do that. It was mostly on Instagram. There were a lot of story re-shares, so that really helped get the word across to everyone in New York City schools,” Warshaw said.
For Stuyvesant, the administration acknowledged the walkout and made accommodations to help students successfully walk out. “Students who decided to participate in the walkout were asked to swipe out to indicate they would be leaving the building and not returning. The responsibility of the staff was to make sure students without issue could leave the building to participate in the walkout,” Principal Seung Yu said in an e-mail interview. “Staff also informed families the morning of the walkout with an update indicating students may choose to participate in the walkout and leave the building.”
Though walkout participation varied around the city, many students felt empowered to be able to come together and advocate for an alternative solution to school openings. “I felt a sense of connection between fellow Stuy students, a sense of power that I thought we did not have as students,” junior Keynan Nain said in an e-mail interview. “Though the number of people did not meet my expectations, the sentiment of authority did.”