Students Behind @iusdstudentstrike Find Their Voices

Juniors+Christopher+Stocks%2C+Anne+Wu%2C+Michelle+Choi+and+Arun+Malani+met+with+Irvine+Unified+School+District+Trustee+Cyril+Yu+to+discuss+their+concerns+about+the+safety+of+hybrid+learning+amid+the+pandemic.%0A

Courtesy of Anne Wu

Juniors Christopher Stocks, Anne Wu, Michelle Choi and Arun Malani met with Irvine Unified School District Trustee Cyril Yu to discuss their concerns about the safety of hybrid learning amid the pandemic.

Irvine Unified’s official Instagram account (@irvine_unified) posted a reminder regarding students’ return to school from winter break on Jan. 2. The post sparked considerable controversy, with more than 2,500 comments from students and parents airing their opinions on the return, in light of dwindling availability in local ICUs and heightened holiday travel.

These mounting factors motivated juniors Christopher Stocks and Anne Wu to start the Instagram account @iusdstudentstrike. Along with six other students throughout the district, Wu and Stocks have coordinated efforts to spread word about the upcoming strike, gather information about changes in learning model policies and open a line of communication with the IUSD Board of Education.

“We both wanted to take more action than just signing petitions and spreading infographics on social media because those have proven to be ineffective in the past,” Wu said. “So we started organizing a strike, and we reached out to some people who felt the same as us from other schools.”

Stocks’ decision to get involved was closer to home, as his mother is a registered nurse.

“It was just looking around in my environment, you know, receiving those stories from my mother about the ICU,” Stocks said. “Just by seeing that and seeing what’s going on at school, which is no different than how the beach looks on a Saturday, and it just made me want to do something about it.”

After outlining a plan to strike and communicate their concerns to the five-member IUSD Board of Education, the pair also partnered with junior Michelle Choi and Northwood High junior Meghan Pham.

“Striking is bigger than what this certain situation is,” Pham said. “If we pull this off successfully, I think it could open a lot of doors for communicating more with IUSD.”

Criticism has also been levied at the Instagram account through private messages, comments and a now-deactivated account with the username @iusdstudentstrikehateaccount, with users specifically raising concerns about students’ choice to enroll in IVA and the team’s potential to advance substantive policies.

We’ve been trying really hard to keep everything very professional and formal.”

— Michelle Choi

“We’ve been trying really hard to keep everything very professional and formal,” Choi said. “I think that’s the biggest challenge for me, and I started doubting myself, like, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’”

The team also sought advice from Northwood High senior Colman Sun, who serves as the state vice president of the California Association of Student Councils (CASC), a leadership and legislative development organization that gives students a platform to speak before the California State Board of Education. When school districts entered emergency distance learning in the spring of last year, Sun devised policies for the pass/fail system adopted by IUSD and more than 100 school districts throughout the state.

“There is a little bit less emphasis on activism here, so that in itself is kind of a barrier for a lot of initiatives that occur here,” Sun said. “It’s important that [students] recognize that they are the education system, they are the people being served, as their voices are essential for properly receiving an education.” 

It’s important that [students] recognize that they are the education system, they are the people being served, as their voices are essential for properly receiving an education.”

— Colman Sun

Wu’s journey toward organizing her peers and speaking to decision makers in the district is also a personal one.

“When the pandemic started… I wasn’t able to interact with people and I lost a lot of interest and motivation in general,” Wu said. “[The strike] really helps motivate me and brings a new light into my life, to be able to know that I’m helping other students and teachers.”