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caption: Franklin High School auditorium in Seattle.
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Franklin High School auditorium in Seattle.
Credit: Flickr Photo/Joe Wolf (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Students and staff at south Seattle school plan "sick-out" to protest district's handling of coronavirus

About 30 staff members and many students at Seattle's Franklin High School are planning a "sick-out" protest: they're calling in sick Wednesday to protest Seattle Public Schools' response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Protesters are upset that the district is keeping most south-end schools open today after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 at nearby Aki Kurose Middle School. That school closed indefinitely starting today.

Franklin is one of four other south Seattle schools that the district said yesterday have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus. Franklin, Mercer Middle School and Rainier Beach High School were disinfected last night, said Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson. Cleveland STEM High School was closed today for disinfection, and reopens Thursday.

Franklin High School teacher Olivia Geffner said so many families at her school also have students at Aki Kurose that the district should have done more than just disinfected Franklin last night - it should have closed.

"A lot of their talking points have been 'we don't want to close for equity reasons, kids won't have access to the same education.' And they're absolutely right that that is true. But there is also equity in closing. We need to be protecting the health of our students," Geffner said.

In south Seattle schools, which include many low-income students and children from immigrant and refugee families, many students live with their extended families, including elderly relatives, Geffner said. Health care disparities mean many in the community could have a hard time seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, she said.

Franklin Associated Student Body President Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero posted a call on Instagram for students to call in sick Wednesday.

Romero questioned whether the district was treating south-end schools with less care than it would north-end schools, which tend to have higher-income populations and much larger percentages of white students.

"This has become a matter of racial equity and social justice," Jimenez Romero wrote.

"If the district really cared about us they would take the time to THOROUGHLY clean our schools and take ADDITIONAL measures," Jimenez Romero wrote. "The lives of our community and family are at risk."

Jimenez Romero said for Franklin students who attend school today, there will be a second-period walk-out to protest this and other issues.

District spokesperson Tim Robinson said he was aware of the planned protests.

"They have the right to express themselves, certainly, and it's a stressful time for everybody," said Robinson.

"There's a lot of different views about what the district should do," Robinson said. "There are voices of support that the district should be keeping schools open, there are voices of support that the district should close schools."