Students in Montgomery Co. hold walkouts to demand switch to virtual learning amid COVID concerns

"We want virtual," said student organizer Ian McNeely. "The timeframe for how long we want schools to be virtual, that varies, but going virtual is the main demand."

McNeely is a junior at Northwest High School in Germantown, Maryland. He said students at nearly 20 schools, primarily high schools, have indicated they will take part in Friday’s walkout.

At most schools, the plan is to leave class around noon. McNeely said, at least at his school, students plan to be out for at least an hour.

Some students are advocating for two weeks of virtual and want the county to beef up safety measures in that time. Others want to see a longer period of virtual learning for all students.

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An Instagram page dedicated to the protest cites multiple reasons for wanting to go virtual, including bus routes shutting down, a shortage of teachers and substitutes, general concern about the Omicron variant, and the current case rate in the school district compared to the start of the school year.

"We hope it will happen," said McNeely. "We don’t know if this alone will make it happen."

Others don’t agree this is the time to be closing schools following the significant learning loss students have already faced.

Starting Thursday, 16 Montgomery County schools went back to virtual learning for at least 10 days, angering some including Gov. Larry Hogan.

"To shut down entire school systems or multiple schools with thousands of kids having to go through remote learning with all the damage that’s caused over the past year, that’s just too aggressive of an action that we don’t think is necessary," Hogan said Thursday.

He said he’s directed the state health department to reach out to MCPS for more information about the decision.

In response, an MCPS spokesman said in a statement: "The decision to move a school to a ten calendar day period of virtual learning is not taken lightly and is done by examining a number of factors including the input of a multi-stakeholder group."