Small group protests handling of COVID on BI

Inspired by student walkouts nationwide, a local group took to Instagram to try to gather support for a walkout on Bainbridge Island Jan. 14.

Calling themselves BHS Walkout 2022 the group of a handful of students shared concerns including the need for more N95 masks, wellness checks at school entrances, and remote learning options that take into consideration both physical and mental health.

Students are concerned due to recent state and federal health agencies advising schools that “high-risk sports and extracurricular activities should be virtual or canceled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants are fully vaccinated.”

Bainbridge High School principal Kristina Rodgers sent an email to students addressing the concerns to assure students that the Bainbridge Island School District is working on their behalf.

That seemed to have satisfied most students. Rodgers’s email confirmed district policy, “so that everyone in our building is hearing facts consistently and understands the reality around decision-making authority.”

Rodgers explained that only the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Department of Health could direct a short-term closure and that the intention of the OSPI is to continue in-person learning barring staff shortages. The Seattle School District has canceled classes at two high schools, and the South Kitsap School District announced a district closure through Jan. 17 due to critical staff vacancies caused by COVID-19.

Not knowing how many students would walkout, some staff was on hand to observe the event. At 9:20 a.m., a few students stood outside in the fog near the main entrance to BHS.

Freshman Janneka Broekhoff said she was protesting “that OSPI and the Department of Health aren’t shutting down schools in time to prevent more COVID outbreaks, and we’d like more KN95 and KF94 masks available to all students so that we don’t get COVID.”

Broekhoff worries about going to school and said it’s a decision she has to make every day. “Do I want to get COVID, or do I want to fail at school? It’s a hard decision, and most of the time I kind of wish I could just hop online and do my classes that way. But I still end up coming to school because I have to get an education.”

A student from Eagle Harbor High School was protesting in silence and typed responses on a cellphone. The student was concerned about the transparency of reporting COVID contacts and doesn’t feel safe at school because she had been exposed to a COVID-positive person on Jan. 10 but did not know in which class it occurred. She would prefer remote learning at home.

That same day the district released a “COVID Cases @ BHS & List of Impacted Classes” email stating the “district was notified of 11 new positive COVID-19 cases involving individuals at BHS. The following class periods have possible exposure to COVID-19.” The list included 41 classes from periods 1-6 for Jan. 10. The next day, the district released another email stating that five new positive COVID cases had been reported at BHS, but did not list the number of classes impacted.