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Students protesting Poudre School District’s decision to move middle and high schools into full-time, in-person learning gathered outside of the board of education meeting Tuesday night to host a candlelight vigil.
The students stopped board members as they entered the building and asked that they join in a moment of silence for those in the Fort Collins community who lost their lives to COVID-19; a number stopped on their way in to participate.
Almost 20 students, representing three of the district’s four high schools, gathered throughout the evening. Some were meeting each other for the first time, and a number shared their concerns about the district’s planned March 22 return to full in-person learning.
“Our cases are going down, so why would we stop now?” asked Livi Christiansen, a junior at Poudre High School. “I feel like getting rid of these measures is asking for more death and more destruction in our community.”
The protest — along with an online petition, an email writing campaign and a student survey — were organized by Poudre High School senior Colton Littlewood and junior Arwen Lyons to show concern to the board and school district.
The petition to remain in Phase 3, or hybrid, learning had garnered more than 940 signatures by Tuesday evening; a previous petition that asked the district to cancel its move to Phase 4 in January had almost 3,000 signatures.
Littlewood said that, to students, it feels like the people making the decisions are “disconnected” from what it’s like to be in school during a pandemic.
Track COVID in Fort Collins schools:Poudre School District has reported more than 915 cases since fall
“It seemed almost hypocritical that the district was sitting in the room where they have their board meetings, spaced 10 feet apart from each other, talking about how it’s fine to send students back into school and classrooms where they won’t even have 3 feet,” he said.
PSD spokesperson Madeline Noblett said the district knows not all students and families are comfortable with the move, and the district is proud of the students protesting for “their self-advocacy and respectful approach to sharing feedback and concerns.”
In its announcement about the phase shift, the district said students who wish to stay remote would have the option to do so, which would involve broadcasting some classes to supplement at-home learning.
But students voiced concern about the way the district was advising teachers to conduct broadcasted classes.
Noblett said teachers are to “be focused on their in-person students” and said they are “not expected to interact with students accessing the broadcast,” leaving some to infer that those who opt to stay remote may not get the same quality of education as their peers in person.
A number of students, including Fort Collins High School senior Madison Smith, said this online option made them feel they would have to choose between their safety and getting a quality education or maintaining their grades.
Smith said most of her classes are solely labs or projects at this point in the school year, making remote learning difficult. In Phase 4, Smith said she would likely have to go in person, but it would be “against (her) good judgement.”
Students advocating the district not move to full-time, in-person learning are primarily worried that health protocols can’t be followed — like the recommended 6 feet of distance and students wearing masks properly — and that PSD is not following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Noblett previously told the Coloradoan that the district listens to guidance from the federal level, including the CDC, but most closely follows the recommendations of Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
Students also took issue with the behavior they feel the district is promoting, saying that if it’s safe for kids to return to school, logic follows that it must be safe for them to see others outside of school, as well.
“The district has totally failed to consider how their actions as a leadership organization affect the actions of the greater Fort Collins community,” Littlewood said.
Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.