Students Launch Effort to Demand Greater COVID-19 Protections at School

August 27, 2021

SACRAMENTO, CA – In a zoom press conference Dr. Richard Pan joined students from across the nation as they announced ProtectUS’ “Student Health Ambassador” program to support teens demanding school officials and community take precautions that have been proven to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At the same time that students finally head back to the classroom, COVID-19 spread is surging, including hospitalizations and cases among children which accounted for 22.4% of our nation’s COVID-19 cases last week. Students working with ProtectUS, a non-profit with the goal of battling misinformation and advocating for evidence-based health policies, launched the Public Health Student Ambassador Program. Students are launching their effort, calling upon school boards to enforce vaccine verification and mandates, mask mandates, provide on-campus vaccine clinics, testing and other protections from the deadly coronavirus.

Kimiya, 17 years old, 12th grade in Fresno, California and Co-Director of Innovation and Strategy of GENup: “Our student health ambassador program is supporting and encouraging students to speak up and call on their school officials to keep them safe in the classroom. We have realized that some schools are taking public health guidelines seriously, and others are not. At the same time, we are seeing the Delta variant disproportionately impact disenfranchised groups. We have also noticed anti-science adults showing up at school boards and fighting against safety measures like masks and vaccines and we know we have to speak up now before it’s too late.”

Arin, 14 years old, 9th grade in San Jose, California and Founder of Teens for Vaccines. “The Delta variant is raging across America and disinformation is rising. Masking is still not a top priority in schools, putting us teens and our younger siblings at grave risk. Schools need to be a safe learning environment for us--students must have easy access to vaccines and masking must be a top priority. We at Teens for Vaccines are really excited about the Public Health Student Ambassador program for empowering us teens to crush COVID.”

Ayaan, 12 years old, Austin, Texas: “Out here in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has banned schools and school districts from imposing mask mandates. How is it that in this country everything gets turned into a political matter? This is not about being a Democrat or a Republican. This is about being an American citizen. This is a matter of life and death. Why is my right to safety and education less valuable than if Greg Abbott wins or loses the election in 2022? Why am I the one sitting at home because others refuse to wear masks?”

Genavieve, a freshman at University of California, San Diego: “The reason that we don't see a lot of student advocacy is because we're almost shut out of politics at a young age. But we are telling students that they need to be confident in their own voice because students know better than anyone what it's like to live in a global pandemic during the school year. Students are experts and it’s time for school boards to start listening because we know what is and isn’t safe and we certainly know what makes us feel safe. Students know where the hesitations lie and where the obstacles are, because we live them every single day.”

Dr. Richard Pan, State Senator, Chair of the Senate Health Committee and author of California’s tough vaccine laws: “Let me be very clear, children can get sick, and children can die of COVID. While the American Academy of Pediatrics and other trusted experts universally agree that vaccines and masking in schools are critical in keeping kids safe, young people are seeing adults turn things that protect them into fights. Children are seeing adults play politics with masking and vaccines and are asking, ‘why don't the adults want to keep us safe?’”

Crystal Strait, ProtectUS: “ProtectUS has been working with students across California and the nation to support their efforts to fight misinformation and crush COVID. We are inspired everyday by the students standing up and demanding that adults stop playing politics and adhere to the public health guidelines that will save lives.”

Paula Villescaz, President of the San Juan Unified School District: “In school districts across the country elected leaders like me are balancing the health and the needs of students, educators and our school staff while making sure our students get the good education that they deserve.  We have a responsibility to keep our children safe and healthy.  We must enforce the public health safety measures that are required in the state of California, including vaccine verification, enforcing mask mandates, providing vaccine clinics and regular testing opportunities. We cannot play politics with the health of our students and our communities.  I am proud to stand with our students as they demand we keep them safe.”

In its ongoing effort to build power for public health and support the voices the many students reaching out, ProtectUS, a non-profit with the goal of battling misinformation and advocating for evidence-based health policies, launched the Public Health Student Ambassador Program earlier this summer.  ProtectUS saw the need for such a program, which supports the voices of student ambassadors, after hearing directly from students throughout California who are concerned about contracting COVID-19.