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Some Denver High School Students Plan Walkouts Over COVID Concerns

DENVER (CBS4) - Several students at Thomas Jefferson High School and North High School are expected to walk out on Thursday because many feel largely unsafe with the school district's current COVID regulations.

Students told CBS4 that 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 arising at different schools every week.

"No one really covers their nose at all, they don't really enforce it too much here," said Brennan England, a freshman at Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson High School sophomore Haven Coleman said this all started when they returned from winter break and they saw a spike in cases within their schools and what they believe is a lack of proper protocols. That prompted Coleman to start a petition asking the district for better enforcement of COVID regulations at all DPS schools. After the petition received several hundred signatures, Coleman and her peers then sent a letter to superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero and the DPS board members, saying they would walk out of school on Jan. 20 unless the district meets their demands for KN95 masks and consistent testing, among other things.

"We shouldn't have to be risking out lives, our families lives, our community's lives just to get a decent education," said Coleman. "We want to have these conversations, we're not trying to disengage from you, we want to have a decent conversation about getting these demands put in place."

The students gave the district and board a week to reply to their letter, but didn't get much of a response, until Wednesday afternoon, a day before the planned walkout. The district responded to the letter saying the student's should take up with issues with the individual school saying, "if these district expectations are not happening at your school, I suggest organizing a meeting with your school leadership and the corresponding Operational Superintendent. It is important to note that your experience at TJ is not the district norm. I have received feedback and have personally observed students and staff adhering to the protocols described. These are the majority of our schools and at these sites, there is no desire to return to remote learning."

In regard to the matter, a district spokesperson sent CBS4 a statement saying

"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."

But for students like Coleman, it's still not enough.

"It's a danger zone and we shouldn't have to wait weeks to get results to actually help save us," she said.

The students told CBS4 they aren't necessarily trying to go back to remote learning, they just want stronger safeguards in place if in-person learning continues. Students are North High and Thomas Jefferson are expected to walk out around 10 a.m. on Thursday.

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