RM student walkout reveals frustration among students around MCPS COVID-19 policies


Photo courtesy of Naima Goffney

Student walkout organizer, Jaiden Burney circles students protesting MCPS COVID-19 policies and voices grievances

Riona Sheikh, Opinion Writer

Over a thousand student voices around the county assembled on Friday, Jan. 21. Despite the frigid temperatures and unexcused absences, nearly a dozen schools participated in a walkout to push for a temporary switch from in-person learning. Unfortunately, Richard Montgomery High School was not among these schools. Now, this Wednesday, RM protested alone and contributed close to nothing to the efforts of the walkout.

Montgomery County Public Schools announced at the start of January that schools with 5 percent of cases would be in the “red zone” and enter a 14-day period of virtual learning. According to MCPS, in only two days of school, RM had 51 cases of COVID-19 and a vast majority of schools fell into the “red zone.” Instead of the transition to virtual learning we were guaranteed, MCPS released a community message stating Maryland does not recommend a trigger threshold to switch to virtual. 

Promises were broken. “RM has gotten over two-hundred cases in about a week after winter break – based on this and other statistics, the guidelines clearly haven’t been working … [they] have become less restrictive even though cases are very clearly rising,” sophomore Anvika Deva said. 

According to NPR, it would take less than 15 minutes to contract COVID-19 whilst being exposed without a mask, which poses indoor lunches at RM as high-risk sites. “Since everyone is inside right now, while we eat, we could all be getting the virus without knowing. I honestly don’t think it’s safe because the hallways are very closed off,” sophomore Marlene Orantes said. Since Omicron is one of the most contagious variants of this virus, schools that were previously thought to be relatively safe have become COVID-19 hotspots. 

With cases surging, students have the right to be hesitant about attending in-person school. “I feel MCPS has taken no COVID precautions whatsoever when cases have been higher than ever and there are so many students and staff missing school because they have no alternative. MCPS needs to reevaluate how they handle things,” junior Emma Hagan said. The walkout was organized as a direct result of frustration towards in-person learning. It intends to draw attention to the lack of action on MCPS’s part and the danger of in-person learning. Student organizers of the walkout Jaiden Burney and Anna JP said, “We’re trying to give students a voice and advocacy. We didn’t have enough time to plan one on Friday but [we] worked with administration to ensure we could safely have one today.”

Without question, virtual learning is an option that greatly reduces the probability of contracting the potentially lethal coronavirus. Yet, RM neglected to participate in the county-wide walkout on Friday. However, students reached out to administration to reschedule and hold their own walkout on Wednesday during Advisory. According to Principal Alicia Deeny, around 70-80 people were in attendance and voiced concerns about MCPS control over cases during the walkout. 

Though RM did eventually hold a walkout, it would have been more impactful to have joined the other 20 schools around the county as a sign of solidarity and unity. Students, staff and administrators must efficiently work together towards a common interest and communicate. Most of the schools who participated worked with their administration to coordinate the walkout on Friday, much like RM should have done. Ms. Deeny said, “When it comes to things that affect school, students and staff are usually on the same page on what is in our best interests. It is normally mutually beneficial.” 

The walkout is supposed to be symbolic of the student’s voice. This is exactly why all schools participating were supposed to coordinate protest times on Friday. There is power in numbers: The numbers of COVID-19 cases shooting up, the number of lives lost, the number of days since the pandemic began, the number of students participating in the walkout. The number of students who could have participated, but did not. 

RM is not unfamiliar to student protests. In 2018, RM participated in a national rally for the March for Our Lives, which took place as a result of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida. There were over a million participants in the March for Our Lives, with the people organizing it being people who were directly impacted by shootings and gun violence. In the current scenario, students are the ones being most impacted; they have to walk through crowded hallways and eat lunch on floors that hundreds of shoes have walked on. Instead of a massive student-run protest countywide, the walkout has been reduced to a few students standing outside. 

Civil disobedience is a principle deeply rooted in American culture. It entails bending rules for the sake of a problem bigger than any rules and guidelines. When discussing something such as COVID-19, which is truly a matter of life and death, sometimes a little civil disobedience is necessary.