By SYDNEY GAW
After IUSD released a statement on January 6, 2021 voicing the district’s intention to continue in-person instruction following the end of winter break, concerned community members were quick to protest, fearing that a return to hybrid learning immediately after the break would lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Despite thousands of requests to reconsider the decision, IUSD did not release further information on the subject. IUSD’s disregard for community concerns catalyzed a series of district-wide efforts to prioritize student and staff safety, including a student strike campaign.
The main group behind this movement is IUSD Student Strike, which was formed by a group of students from Portola High School shortly after the district released its statement. IUSD Student Strike has been operating solely through an Instagram account run by Portola juniors Chris Stocks and Anne Wu. The account provides information about a district-wide strike the students are organizing along with email templates and Google Forms to submit to the IUSD Board of Education.
“Our group was created with the sole intention of achieving the safest possible way to learn during this time of crisis,” IUSD Student Strike said when messaged on Instagram. “Our main goal is to convince IUSD to completely move over the high school curriculum to distance learning until it is safe enough to return to school in-person.”
According to members, quality of education—in addition to health—is at stake, and students should not be forced to put their education over health. This concern resonates with many students who chose hybrid learning despite the discernible health risks.
“No one should be held accountable for choosing Hybrid learning over IVA because many students didn’t believe that the situation would get so intense,” IUSD Student Strike said. “IVA doesn’t provide the same quality curriculum that IUSD does, [and] we’ve received comments from teachers saying that the curriculum limits teacher freedom.”
This concern, among others, is why IUSD Student Strike believes they must confront the district’s negligence to student and staff safety by protesting a return to hybrid learning. While the group acknowledged that striking is a last resort to getting the board’s attention, they will not hesitate to go through with it.
The district-wide strike, which is scheduled to take place from January 26 to January 29, advises participants to refrain from attending in-person learning as well as other social gatherings. Although IUSD Student Strike does not have an exact number of expected participants, some IUSD students have already begun staying at home during in-person days in protest of IUSD’s return to hybrid learning.
“I think it’s very irresponsible for IUSD to continue with in-person learning after winter break due to the rise in COVID cases and the lack of available resources at the local hospitals,” Northwood High School sophomore Anna Lieggi said. “I’ve actually been staying home since we’ve returned to in-person learning even though it has led to quite a few absences.”
However, some believe that a strike against IUSD is not the right way to bring about change.
“For a mass group of high school students to just stay home in defiance to IUSD format and rules is extremely irresponsible and disrespectful, [and] any student strike would be illegitimate and ineffective,” a UHS student said, who chose to remain anonymous for personal reasons. “I am sure that the IUSD board is trying their hardest to keep students safe while still providing us with quality education, and students going on ‘strikes’ will definitely not help with the current situation.”
The strike might also be counterproductive in achieving the movement’s demands, as participants will have to miss out on valuable learning time. Students would miss the only lesson they have face-to-face with their teacher for the week and possibly even tests.
This concern poses another challenge to the strike’s effectiveness. IUSD Student Strike stated that the strike’s success will rely heavily on numbers and that “hundreds, if not thousands, of students will need to participate” to get the IUSD Board of Education’s attention.
While IUSD Student Strike has a clear idea of what success means for their campaign and is aware of the obstacles they face in getting IUSD to acknowledge their demands, one unforseen challenge may not be finding participants who agree with their demands, but rather the group’s professionalism.
IUSD Student Strike reached out to UHS junior and ASB Vice President Jean Meyer to join their group as a student representative. Meyer is no longer a part of the group because she did not agree with many of the group’s methods and felt that their actions would be detrimental to the movement.
“When I got into a Zoom call with the group, they wanted the school representatives to help plan it,” Meyer said. “They had a five page ‘demand’ document written and planned to go to the [school] board with it. When I presented my concerns about not being able to go in-person to the board because of COVID restrictions and how asking students to skip school appeared contradictory to their message, they got mad that the other representatives and I were ‘messing up’ their plans.”
Although Meyer was not fully involved with the group, she agreed to help publicize their plans. This, however, led to further disagreement among members of the group, ultimately resulting in several students diverging from the campaign.
“They asked if I could share a post made by them, and before seeing it, I said yes, which was my mistake. After reading through it, I didn’t fully agree with the post and couldn’t put it out on my personal account. I told them that I admire what they are doing, but I ultimately couldn’t post it for them,” Meyer said. “The other representatives from Irvine, Woodbridge, and Northwood agreed, and the group organizers got upset—insulting and cussing at us, and mocking the message I sent them.”
Despite leaving the campaign along with several other school representatives, Meyer, like many students, still acknowledges the importance of student safety and the need for change in the community.
“While I agree that everyone is entitled to feel safe and receive the best education possible, I also understand that the district is working very hard to answer to the needs of students, families, and teachers,” Meyer said. “I completely encourage conversation with teachers, other students, administrators, parents, and staff, who can offer different perspectives on virtual or in-person learning. Talking about why we are in-person at the moment is an important conversation to have.”