Students protest over HBUHSD decision for virtual teachers to return to campus

In light of a Huntington Beach Union High School District policy for virtual teachers to return to campus in the second semester, a group of HBUHSD students has initiated an ongoing student strike to stand in solidarity with the affected teachers and raise awareness about the situation.

“I knew I had to do something,” Huntington Beach High School junior Sam Shaw said. “I thought to myself ‘this isn’t fair to [teachers]; this isn’t fair to us.’”

As a result, Shaw and Ocean View High School senior Bella Brannon founded HBUHSD Student Strike, a student-led group “fighting for teachers’ rights to safely teach from home,” and recruited HBUHSD students to represent all schools in the district.

Their group now consists of 11 student representatives from all six campuses in HBUHSD and around 70 student members on Discord, a social media platform used for communication, where their future plans are discussed.

“I knew I wasn’t alone in this and there were some wonderful students that could come together and make some change,” Shaw said.

After recruiting members, the team sent an email to the district regarding their frustrations. Then, they created their first Instagram post on Dec. 10, 2020, with links to their official statementa petition and a form for protesters pledging to strike to fill out.

“The purpose [of our group] is to hold HBUHSD accountable for their plans and policies relating to [COVID-19], to allow our teachers to be able to do their job safely amongst this chaos,” Shaw said.

The petition currently has over 6,000 signatures and their Instagram account now has over 700 followers, with an array of posts on their plans and information. Among these posts are updates on the past three HBUHSD Board of Trustees meetings they’ve attended on Dec. 15, 2020, Jan. 12 and Feb. 9.

Nine students from the group gave public comments at the Dec. 15, 2020 Board of Trustees meeting.

On Dec. 18, 2020, Superintendent Dr. Clint Harwick sent a Parentsquare message to all HBUHSD parents acknowledging the student strike and stated that “any students choosing to ‘skip school’ will be marked truant and truancy will be noted in their records.”

On Jan. 12, three student representatives presented public comments to the board. Following the Dec. 15, 2020, and Jan. 12 board meetings, the group received no responses from the district and held a strike on Feb. 3, where students participated by not attending their online classes. Then, the group held an in-person protest at the board meeting on Feb. 9.

Currently, about 60 HBUHSD teachers have taken a leave of absence, and this student-formed group says they haven’t received any further communication from the board regarding their protests.

According to Shaw, protestors plan to attend the Mar. 9 board meeting to protest in both in-person and drive-by methods so more participants can attend.

“We want proper PPE, vaccination of all staff and safe options for the 2021-22 school year,” Shaw said.

Despite the start of the strikes, there was no observable drop or difference in attendance, according to Fountain Valley High School Principal Dr. Morgan Smith.

“Correlating drops in enrollment due to student strikes is not possible as most families do not provide a rationale for change in status,” Smith said. “We’ve had nearly as many returns to in-person as we have had in students opting to return to distance learning.”

According to Smith, there is an increased number of students returning to campus as case rates improve and more community members are vaccinated. More teachers are expected to return back to in-person teaching as vaccines are administered.

“The more this trend continues, the more likely we’ll be able to offer students access to our traditional year-end activities, especially our Seniors,” Smith said.

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