Dexter Lee, a Grade 9 student involved in multiple sports at Kelvin High School, estimates he is in close contact with 70 different people on a typical weekday.

Dexter Lee, a Grade 9 student involved in multiple sports at Kelvin High School, estimates he is in close contact with 70 different people on a typical weekday.

He had only four contacts at home, when he was doing e-learning last week.

As far as the 15-year-old is concerned, that math makes it a no-brainer students should have the option to study at home indefinitely to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Dexter was among more than 50 teenagers who walked out of his Winnipeg school before lunchtime Monday in protest.

“The province is just expecting that everyone is either going to get or be exposed to COVID, which I think is pretty blatantly ableist,” he said, following a student-led action organized by MB Students for COVID Safety.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>“The province is just expecting that everyone is either going to get or be exposed to COVID, which I think is pretty blatantly ableist,” said Dexter Lee, 15, a grade 9 student from Kelvin High School who took part in the walkout along with around 100 other students.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“The province is just expecting that everyone is either going to get or be exposed to COVID, which I think is pretty blatantly ableist,” said Dexter Lee, 15, a grade 9 student from Kelvin High School who took part in the walkout along with around 100 other students.

At 11:30 a.m., on the first day of face-to-face classes in 2022, students took part in simultaneous walkouts across Manitoba to denounce limited pandemic protocols in K-12 buildings and the inability to participate in e-learning during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Ava Byrne, a Grade 10 student at Kelvin, decided late last week to launch a singular Jan. 17 protest at her school. Within days, Ava and other organizers used social media to mobilize students from upwards of 90 different schools to launch local protests everywhere from Winnipeg to Winkler to Brandon.

“I’m double-vaxxed. If I get COVID, I’m young, it’s (likely) not going to be that big of a deal for me. But if I spread it to a friend or a family member who either is unvaccinated or has autoimmune (concerns), then that could be really bad,” said Devon Francisco, a walkout participant at Kelvin, who showed up to school Monday wearing a N95 mask.

Many participants echoed those comments, expressing concern that while they are young and healthy, they do not want to contract the virus and unknowingly spread it to an immunocompromised or elderly individual.

Liam Thomson, a Grade 9 student, said he walked out of class to show his support for an e-learning option to be made available to learners to reduce class sizes. Liam said little has actually changed in schools, except from the slight rearranging of desks, since classes were dismissed in December.

“One of our teachers was even saying today that this is the first time he’s ever felt scared as a teacher,” said the 14-year-old, before leaving Kelvin to go home for the rest of the day.

<p>MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>(from left) Nathan Iwanchuk, Devon Francisco, and Liam Thomson, grade 9 students from Kelvin High School took part in the walkout along with around 100 other students during the middle of class to raise awareness of lack of student safety.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

(from left) Nathan Iwanchuk, Devon Francisco, and Liam Thomson, grade 9 students from Kelvin High School took part in the walkout along with around 100 other students during the middle of class to raise awareness of lack of student safety.

An estimated 300 students in Manitoba’s largest district participated in walkouts in area schools, according to Radean Carter, spokeswoman for the Winnipeg School Division. (Carter noted it remains unclear how many students may have protested by simply staying home Monday.)

Given schools have received direction from the province to closely monitor absences and report high absenteeism rates, which could prompt a asymptomatic rapid testing surveillance program, Carter said WSD leaders are analyzing historical data to determine what will constitute concern in their buildings in the coming weeks.

WSD schools will soon start providing local parents and community members with weekly updates about their truancy situation.

Following the Kelvin walkout Monday, Sophie Piche said she hoped provincial officials took notice of student concerns and will adjust restrictions to follow suit.

“I feel uncomfortable right now because there’s a lot of cases and it’s not safe,” she said, adding she does not like remote learning, but would prefer it over the mental health toll of going into a school daily knowing there are likely positive cases.

The Grade 9 student added: “There’s probably one or two kids in our school right now that have COVID.”

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.