PORTLAND, Ore. — More than 200 students walked out of their classrooms at Grant High School Tuesday morning to support Portland Public Schools' proposed vaccine mandate for students 12 years and older.
The students gathered outside the Northeast Portland high school for about a half hour to send a message district leaders.
“This body of students has assembled to demonstrate our support for student vaccine mandates,” shouted student speaker Jordan Galloway. The crowd cheered loudly in response, it seemed trying to make up for not feeling heard.
“And considering that the board is hearing comment tonight and voting next week we thought it was important that they hear that there really are students that care about this vaccine mandate and support it," said senior Lillie Stewart, one of the organizers of the event.
District leaders have been hearing public feedback on the proposed mandate through listening sessions on YouTube and through messages submitted online.
Of the more than 300 comments gathered earlier this month, Portland Public Schools (PPS) said 63% were in favor of a vaccine mandate for students 12 and up and 35% were against it.
During the walkout, students at Grant said not enough of them have been speaking up about the mandate — something they said must change.
To those against the vaccine, sophomore Tesla Chin said, ”I believe that you are free to do things that only damage yourself. But refusing to get a vaccine can harm not only yourself but all of the people around you and especially vulnerable parties such as old people or people who are immunocompromised.”
The students formed a crowd outside the school, something health officials say should be avoided. However, students at the walkout said crowds are unavoidable when it comes to in-person classes.
“We as students know that we see crowds every day in the lunch lines, in the hallways and in congested stairwells. These crowds are our reality, which is precisely why we need a COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” said Galloway.
“This vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective in preventing severe illness, even with the Delta variant, even in the present day. And it presents an opportunity for us to be safer in the classroom,” said Stewart.
A school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night where district leaders will gather more public comment on the mandate. A vote is scheduled for November 16th to determine if the mandate will be implemented.
If passed, PPS will join a handful of other large districts in the country who've approved a student vaccine mandate, including Los Angeles and Oakland.