COVID-19 death of student propels teachers’ walkout


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a school mask mandate imposed by the Commonwealth at the beginning of the 2021 school year on Dec. 10. The court’s ruling left it up to each school district to set policy. Three days later, Alayna Thach, a beloved 17-year-old student at Aspira Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia died of COVID-19 Dec. 13, shocking students and staff and propelling them to take action. The school has over 60% Latinx students. 

Alayna Thach, 17 years old

Several of the charter school’s teachers walked off their jobs Dec. 20, demanding penalties for those who don’t wear masks and policy changes in the school’s cafeteria, where students, who are not socially distanced, eat without masks. 

Sarah Kenney, head of the union at the charter school, American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania called for a return to virtual education until the school develops a plan for increased safety to prevent further deaths. (

Teacher La’Shante Cox said, “Alayna was the type of student who would be with us right now, writing petitions and speaking out on how to keep our community safe.” Following Thach’s death, staff and students gathered on the school’s steps to demand increased mitigation. (

Kailah White, a co-student of Thach, noted that unvaccinated students are dying all over the U.S. Thach, not vaccinated, waited for an appointment in January.

Within weeks of schools reopening for in-person education in September, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported nearly 28,000 children, ages 5-18, had tested positive for COVID-19 — 12 times higher than the same period in 2020.

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