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A poster from the "What About Us?" at the RBHS South parking lot on Oct. 19. Photo by Parker Boone.

Students protest virtual learning in RBHS South parking lot

Columbia Public Schools (CPS) parents and students gathered in the RBHS South Parking Lot to object to the Board of Education’s recent decision to keep high school and middle schools virtual as a part of the “What About Us?” protests Oct. 19.The protests, which took place in CPS middle and high schools, aimed to persuade the Board of Education to send all students back in-person learning. 

RBHS principal Jacob Sirna commented on the protests and said virtual learning is a difficult situation for everyone.

I do support our right as a free people to protest,” Sirna said. “The situation we are facing is very difficult to navigate. Our decisions will always frustrate some and satisfy others.”

On Oct. 12, the CPS Board of Education voted 5-2 in favor of keeping high schools virtual indefinitely due to health and safety concerns with in-person instruction. Senior Istahil Omar, who attended the RBHS protest, said if students want to return to in-person learning, it should be their choice.

“We have quarantined to keep numbers down and allowed hospitals to become prepared for the worst, but still we hesitate to start the return to normal life,” Omar said. “I do think that we should allow for whoever wants to go to in-person school to go, and if a person and their family feel unsafe for themselves or other family members, they should not under any circumstances be forced to go.”

Organizers publicized the protests on social media platforms, mainly through the ‘What About Us?’ Facebook page, created by Brooke McCarty, a CPS parent. In a Facebook interest form for the event, 72 people indicated that they were interested in going, and 25 people said they went to one of the protests. McCarty said that she encourages everyone to protest, but students should still attend their online classes if they choose to physically attend a protest.

“Be respectful, peaceful, attend your Zooms, offer someone a ride, bring a snack to share, bring an extension cord, jacket and sign,” McCarty said in a Facebook post Oct. 19. “Please remember this is not directed at the CPS school where you will be. It is the board who is making the decisions.”

In response to the RBHS protest, Sirna acknowledged the difficulties of virtual learning. He emphasized that RBHS faculty are also hoping to return to in-person learning soon.

I can assure you that all Rock Bridge teachers are eager to get back to teaching in person as soon as they feel safe to do so,” Sirna said. “Rock Bridge teachers reflect the community in that we are at different places regarding our feelings about what constitutes a safe return to in person learning.”

Reporting by Emma Stefanutti and Isaac Yontz

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