San Ramon Valley High senior organizes protest at district office

In retaliation to the continuation with online learning, students have arranged a protest to take place on Monday and possibly through the week

A protest against remote learning was originally organized for Monday at the San Ramon Valley High School campus, but it has been moved to the district office at 699 Old Orchard Drive in Danville.

Californian file photo by Miriam Sanchez-Mora

A protest against remote learning was originally organized for Monday at the San Ramon Valley High School campus, but it has been moved to the district office at 699 Old Orchard Drive in Danville.

By Christine Oh, California High School - CA

Doak Walker will not be attending school on Monday. In fact, the San Ramon Valley High senior hopes to miss the entire week of school.

Walker has organized a sit-in protest at the San Ramon Unified School District office on Monday to call for a return to in-person schooling as soon as possible. If the protest is successful, Walker plans to continue the sit-in for the remainder of the week.

“I wanted to make a plan to have the students have a say and for people to voice their opinion and stand up for what they believe in,” Walker said.

Walker plans to have students sit-in at the district office all day, not attend any classes, and have their absences be marked as unexcused, according to his protest flyer that’s circulating on social media.

courtesy of Doak Walker

“I know we’ll probably have over a hundred [participants at the protest],” Walker said.

He hopes for at least 300 or 400 people to show up and protest remote learning, which has been going on since March 16 when the San Ramon Valley Unified School District closed its campuses and the state went into Shelter-in-Place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But not all students believe in the message behind the protest and said they will not be participating.

“It’s not the right way to go about it,” San Ramon Valley sophomore Nickan Sajassi said. “I don’t find it reasonable because it’s just feeding into the problem as it’s putting students’ as well as teachers’ lives at risk.”

But Walker claims that the safety of all participants will be protected at Monday’s protest, including a mask-on policy for the duration of the sit-in.

“We’re just going to make sure everyone socially distances,” Walker said. “If [people] stay within their friend group and everybody social distances while sitting at tables on campus, I think we’ll be alright.”

Through this protest, Walker wants to demonstrate that there are students who want school to reopen as soon as possible.

“There’s a 99.7 percent chance [minors] aren’t going to die from COVID,” Walker said. “Are we going to stop the entire country from running for those 0.3 percent of people? That’s the question.”

Although CDC studies do not officially support these numbers, the organization claims that, in general, symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection are not as severe in children as they are in adults.

In some states, schools have reopened despite the more than 7.3 million positive COViD cases and 208,300 deaths reported in the United States. But since the reopenings, many schools in several states, such as Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia, have switched back to a full remote schedule after students and staff tested positive for the coronavirus. The Discovery Schools charter network, which has about 2,400 hundred students, closed four campuses in Louisiana in August after positive cases were reported, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

Despite this push for a return to in-person school by students like Walker who believe that returning to school now would be a safe option, others disagree.

“Everyone’s comfort level is so different,” said Cal High AP Statistics teacher Ghazala Niazi, who has been teaching from home since the beginning of the school year. “I think it’s really tough until they’ve got a vaccine.”

Dougherty Valley senior and ASB president Jose Sarmiento spoke about the issue at the district’s Board of Education open session on Tuesday, when the topic of an in-person hybrid schedule was brought up.

“Moving to a hybrid environment poses a variety of challenges that still need to be addressed and October does not seem like a realistic time frame to address these challenges,” Sarmiento said.

First year Superintendent Dr. John Malloy proposed a plan for all students to return to a hybrid model on Jan. 5, 2021, which was unanimously approved by the board trustees Tuesday afternoon.

But Walker and 39.91 percent of middle and high school students surveyed by the district through a survey sent to parents indicated that they wanted to return to school under a hybrid model as soon as possible.

“In my opinion, it would be safe to go back right now,” Walker said. “I’m hoping [this decision] brings out more families across the district [to the protest] to try and get us back in school as soon as possible.”

While the protest was originally organized for San Ramon Valley High students to protest at the downtown Danville campus, Walker has since moved the protest to the district office at 699 Old Orchard Drive in Danville. He is encouraging students from the district’s other three high schools to participate.

Out of safety precautions, the gates to Cal High’s quad will remain locked on Monday, and administrators will be present in case students show up there to protest, assistant principal Jeff Osborn wrote in an email to Cal staff.

“I would love to hear what [students] have to say,” Principal Megan Keefer said. “But I don’t want them to think they have to protest at Cal High to be heard.”

As a proponent for freedom of speech, one of Keefer’s goals is to increase student voice.

“I don’t like censorship, but I have to balance that with student safety,” Keefer said. “This is strange because I’m not allowed to have [students] on campus, yet I don’t want to interfere with their desire to be heard.”

Many Cal students have expressed that they would not attend a protest if one were to be organized on campus.

“It’s unsafe,” senior Misha Bhatia said. “[Going back as soon as possible] is honestly not what I want.”

Added junior Joanna Ho, “I would not go [if there were a protest at Cal]. Although some may find in-person learning much more convenient, I feel like the main reason why people are pushing for the hybrid system is just to be able to hang out with friends after the lack of social interaction for the past few months.”

Despite hesitation from some students about protesting for a return to school as soon as possible, California residents all across the state have been participating in a week-long Zoom-Out protest that began on Monday and was supposed to last through today.

“By closing all public schools the governor has deprived almost 10 million children of their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education,” Tara Yurkovic, a mother of two who participated and led one of the protests, said in an interview with The Placerville Mountain Democrat. “Not a Zoom call but a real education.”

Despite a continuous push for returning to schools as soon as possible, the district will follow through with their current plan of returning on a hybrid model on Jan. 5 unless there are county and state health orders that will prevent schools from doing so.

“We will figure it out,” Keefer said. “We are committed to having students on campus on January 5.”

This story was originally published on The Californian on October 2, 2020.