DENVER (CBS4) – Some students at Thomas Jefferson High School and North High School walked out of school on Thursday morning over concerns about the COVID prevention plan in Denver Public Schools. The students say they feel largely unsafe with the school district’s current health regulations related to the pandemic.

Thomas Jefferson High School students (credit: CBS)

Thursday’s walkouts followed similar actions across the country where students have been demanding that the classrooms they’re in be safer.

North High School students (credit: CBS)

Approximately 50 North High School students met at a park outside the building and then marched from their school to Emily Griffith High School where the DPS central offices are located. At one point, board members crossed the road to hand students N95 masks. School leaders say masks have been readily available to older students and staff and that they are working on getting N95 masks for younger kids.

(credit: CBS)

Students involved say despite the state’s rise in COVID-19 cases, they believe many Denver Public Schools aren’t enforcing social distancing, classrooms aren’t being properly ventilated and resources like masks and tests aren’t readily available. They say dozens of cases are being confirmed at different schools every week.

A petition started by Thomas Jefferson Sophomore Haven Coleman, has amassed hundreds of signatures in just one week. It lists the students concerns and the following specific demands:

  • KN95/N95 masks are provided to all students on campuses
  • Ventilation in all classrooms and airflow to lessen risk in COVID cases
  • 2x a week PCR and rapid testing for the students in person
  • Integrated learning for those at home with COVID or those choosing to stay home for their protection
  • Access to more outdoor spaces for safe lunches
  • More social distancing measures in the hallways and stairs of schools

“We know that there needs to be a change so we can continue to learn in schools safely and not have to go back online because this is not a petition to make sure that we can go back online, we don’t want that we want to make sure we can keep in person,” said Coleman.

“The most important (of our) demands is basically having an option to go remote and to also have more support from faculty and from teachers,” North senior Carlos Rosas said.

The Thomas Jefferson High School students walked out and met at the flagpole outside the building. Some held signs which said “KEEP US SAFE.”

“I’m very nervous about COVID. My family is high risk. And so it’s not me being nervous for myself but also for my family and that’s just going to put them at risk and I don’t want that,” freshman Nes Masas said.

The district asked that CBS4 put the petition in context, stating that DPS has about 200 schools and an enrollment of more than 90,000.

In an email to CBS4, the district stated, “We certainly understand our students’ frustrations. This is a very difficult time for schools right now, here in Denver and across the state and country. But our scholars and families rely on our schools, and we need to do everything we can to keep them open for in-person learning and support. Too much time has already been lost to the pandemic. We need to accelerate learning and strengthen support in our schools. Our health experts and partners are constantly and closely monitoring COVID rates and conditions in the community, and we have their full support in keeping schools open. We have strong safeguards in place, high vaccination rates across our schools, and we’re increasing the availability of N95 masks to staff and scholars. Given these safeguards and the needs of our scholars and families, we remain committed to keeping our doors open to serve our community.”

“We know that there needs to be a change so we can continue to learn in school safely and not have to go back online, because this is not a petition to make sure that we can go back online. And we don’t want that, we want to keep in-person safe so we can keep learning in person,” said Brennan England, a freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Another walkout had also been scheduled to take place on Friday at Thomas Jefferson High School but it will now happen at a later date instead due to the weather forecast.

DPS administrators say they support the students’ right to protest but also stress the importance of keeping schools open. School board members told CBS4 at the walkout that they’re providing more N95 and KN95 masks and space to social distance.

“I support making sure (students) voices are heard,” Board member Tay Anderson said. “The reason why the Board of Education is here today is so we can (go) back to our members and say ‘This is what he heard from our students.’ What can we do to see if we can meet some of their ask halfway or fully.”

Jesse Sarles