Students hold walkout over SPS's dropped mask mandate

Students at Seattle Public Schools staged a walkout Monday morning in protest of the district dropping its mask mandate.

They gathered outside the SPS district headquarters at 11 a.m.

Washington is moving on from its longstanding pandemic protocols, ending mask mandates and vaccine requirements. Seattle Public Schools followed suit and ended their own mask mandate Monday, March 14.

But, the Seattle Student Union—comprised of SPS students uneasy about the decision—argues that district leaders are not listening to their concerns. They want the mask mandate back in place until two weeks after spring break, after which they would revisit the rule; students and teachers would decide if they want the mandate lifted, according to the union’s Instagram page.

"We demand that the Seattle School Board not waver from their universal masking requirement," reads the page.

The protest is being fueled by posts on social media, and comes on the heels of teachers and parents expressing their concerns, even in the last week.

Teachers last week said the district has failed to collaborate with families, students or educators after "repeated unilateral decision making and abrupt transitions without plans in place."

FOX 13 was told protestors plan to meet at a high school in the SoDo neighborhood at some point Monday to rally.

Protestors aren't happy masks are optional, and say it means the district could soon be responsible for a massive wave of COVID-19 cases during a surge of the BA.2 variant, as well as division that can lead to bullying.

RELATED: New Omicron subvariant BA.2 detected in Washington

Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones touched on COVID mitigation strategies during the state of the district last week.

"We've served more than 13,500 students with our vaccination clinics. We've established that 79% of SPs students are fully vaccinated, and we've administered more than 35 in our schools, something that we can be proud of," said Jones. "Since the start of the school year, SPS has supported students and schools to readjust. Educators and school leaders continue to be extremely innovative in how they overcome new challenges to classroom engagement with students; the last two years have been extremely challenging."

An SPS spokesperson told FOX 13 the district supports the First Amendment rights of students, and shared an overall statement on masks, saying the district encourages students, staff and visitors to wear masks in schools.

The Seattle Education Association, a labor union that represents more than 6,000 staff members at SPS, issued a statement to FOX 13 news:

 "[The Seattle Education Association] stands alongside our students as they speak out to ensure SPS adequately and equitably meets their needs. We need to listen to their daily experience of facing a pandemic and take seriously their calls for support," reads a statement from the teacher’s union, sent to FOX 13. "What our students are feeling is a direct result of how our system is failing. We need to take heed and do better. Let’s commit to addressing their stated demands and asks. Our students have a vision for what they need moving forward. [The union] encourages every school board member and administrator to listen closely and urgently act to advocate for what students are asking adults for help with."

FOX 13 reached out to the student union, but have not heard back yet.

PAST COVERAGE: Parents prepare for optional masks at local schools beginning Monday

Stay connected with FOX 13 News on all platforms:
DOWNLOAD: FOX 13 News and Weather Apps
WATCH: FOX 13 News Live
SUBSCRIBE: FOX 13 on YouTube
DAILY BRIEF: Sign Up For Our Newsletter
FOLLOW: Facebook Twitter Instagram