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HS students seeking better protection from Omicron: Planning a walk-out for Monday morning

Click to play video: 'Manitoba students plan student-led school walk out' Manitoba students plan student-led school walk out
A group of Manitoba students are advocating for better school safety, as students are expected to return to in-person learning on Monday.  – Jan 16, 2022

A group of seven Manitoba high school students are calling for further safety measures in classrooms as Omicron cases surge in Manitoba — something they call anxiety-inducing.

Students are expected to be back in class on Monday.

“A lot of people their argument is, ‘Omicron is mild so it’s not really going to affect you or youth have a low death rate,'” says Grade 12 student Brie Villeneuve from Grant Park High School, one of the teens calling for further safety measures.

Read more: Manitoba schools moving back to remote learning until Jan. 17

So far, Villeneuve says, students from more than 80 different schools have plans to walk out of class together at exactly 11:30 a.m. Monday.

“In terms of teachers and schools, this has nothing to do with them. Anything we do is completely towards the provincial government and anyone involved in creating a safer school.”

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Piper Lockhart is a Grade 11 student at College Louis Riel who says it’s more than just about the students.

“We don’t want to go back online completely, we want to have the option.”

The pair says there is no route or gathering spot for students in order to follow COVID-19 safety precautions.

If you’re not a student and want to show solidarity, they say to place a sign or poster at the Manitoba Legislature on Monday.

Read more: Manitoba parents anxiously wait to see if return to school plans change

Dr. Joe Cornow is an assistant Education Professor from the University of Manitoba. She says the walk-out comes as no surprise.

“We are in a particularly robust time for social movement organization and so many of those are youth-led,” she says. “Young people have a specific type of passion, a specific amount of time — and a very low tolerance for B.S.”

The stakes for young people she says feel extremely high no matter the situation.

“In terms of safety at school or in terms of the livability of their planet as they grow up all of these things are very wrapped up.” She says research shows that taking to the streets can be far more effective than voting in terms of change.

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She says the walk-out could be the start of more groups deciding to actively voice their concerns over current government policies.

“This is an amazing scale of walk-out,” she says. ” I think that’s why elected officials will try to diminish it because it’s showing the rest of us what we could be doing and how we could be demanding safety.”

In a statement to Global News on Sunday, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said schools have protections in place.

“This includes a rapid testing program for asymptomatic teachers, staff and Kindergarten to Grade 12 students, an additional five million masks being distributed, and ventilation assessments and improvements that the schools are implementing.”

Cullen says he believes students learn best in the classroom.

“Students learn best in the classroom, the benefits can’t be understated, from mental and physical health to socialization and support for families. Manitoba schools have done a tremendous amount of work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and protect our children.”

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