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Hundreds Of CPS Students Walk Out To Protest Return To In-Person Classes; Block Traffic In Downtown Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students walked out of classes on Friday, and a group of students later blocked traffic in the Loop near State and Madison, protesting the decision to resume in-person learning after the district reached a COVID-19 safety agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Students organizing the walkout said they were not asked to contribute to discussions about their academic and personal needs in order to feel safe going back to in-person classes during the Omicron surge of the pandemic.

The Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance, or Chi-Rads, organized the walkout, which began at 12:30 p.m. Friday. Dozens of students later gathered at CPS headquarters in the Loop to protest the return to in-person classes amid the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases. Students walked out at several schools, including Percy Julian High School, Kenwood Academy High School, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, and Solorio Academy High School.

Lindblom walkout
Students at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and several other Chicago public schools walked out of classes on Jan. 14, 2022, to protest the return to in-person learning amid the Omicron surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo supplied to CBS)

"Young people have never been included meaningfully in any conversation around safety during the pandemic," organizers said in a news release announcing the walkout. "District leaders, administrators, elected officials consistently make decisions about our safety, assuming they know what we need when they do not. Adultism ran rampant in CPS before the pandemic and has only gotten worse, imposing a major divide between students & the care CPS is obligated to provide. Despite our bodies being on the line in unsafe conditions, we are pushed to the back of these conversations."

After their rally outside CPS headquarters, dozens of students temporarily blocked traffic in the Loop near State and Madison streets.

Some of the things they are demanding include improved contact tracing, prohibiting fans at sporting events, and providing one full-time therapist for every 30 students.

"The failures of this system have the greatest impact on our lives. Young people should not settle for the bare minimum or for anything less than what our communities deserve. Young people are standing up on Friday to refuse to allow the current conditions of our schools and the lack of COVID-19 safety protocols to continue. We stand with ourselves, our own safety, and our own health. We keep us safe, we keep us loved," organizers said.

CPS student Lux De La Garza says they want to make decisions at the bargaining table.

"Overall, we want youth to have a place at the bargaining table, to be able to make decisions. We don't think that it's fair or right that Lori Lightfoot makes these decisions about our lives, and we have to sit through it but we don't get any say," she said.

See below for the full list of demands:

  1. CPS should fund support outside of our academia. There are many aspects of our everyday lives that hinder certain students from receiving quality education from inequitable structures and oppressive systems within the city. CPS, as a entity, should recognize the rights that they guarantee to all students and put in practice by implementing the following: 
    1. Coat, food, and resource drives/Mutual Aid Projects.
    2. Fully funded CTA to all students.
    3. Reload EBT cards.
    4. One full-time therapist/psychologist for every 30 students.
    5. Maintaining building upkeep and quality facilities (HVAC, plumbing, cleaning, hot water). To hold schools accountable to this, there should be quality health and inspection checks done by a new CPS office of maintenance. All schools asking for support in any areas regarding their facilities should get full funding for it. 
    6. Much like Covid Relief packages, students should receive covid relief stipends to help cover the necessities that families are going through during these times beyond food. Many families are living paycheck to paycheck and this pandemic affects people's ability to work; that, unfortunately, affects our ability to live. 
  1. Understanding how this pandemic is affecting our ability to learn CPS should fund the following:
    1. Providing every student with their own personal laptop. Ensuring that it comes with the latest version of whatever operating system they run, portable (12-14 inches), 4GB RAM, 512GB storage, and at least 8 hours of battery life. Students should be able to keep it during their entire duration as students, virtual or not. With access to high speed wifi, that has at least 10 Mbps of download speed and 1 Mbps of upload speed. 
    2. Personal tutors outside of school hours in every school. 
    3. Fully funding all the supports of any music and art program in schools.
    4. Social emotional learning (implement time for breaks and fund outdoor spaces/green spaces).
    5. Fund student-executed and -centered organizing projects (food pantries, mutual aid projects, clubs, and other community oriented initiatives).
  1. There needs to be measures taking place in order to stop the spread in physical spaces. This needs to be validated by every school's administration and "Peer pod (teams of teachers, students, and parents)." What it'll look like is CPS would provide:
    1. The antigen test provided by Governor Pritzker for Chicago Public School to be accessible in every school, every day. We would like to add that these should be distributed to our communities that are most disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic that so coincidentally happens to be our black and brown communities on the south and west sides. 
    2. A sustainable and efficient contact tracing system that considers where infected students are in all parts of their day (with the help of student and school community input; meaning people within school communities know best about their peers and people who they coexist with).
    3. Free vaccines and education around vaccination for skeptical and non-native English speaking parents. Also, creating vaccine centers at schools and providing education around COVID.  
    4. Sufficient N-95 masks along with the other face coverings PPE & medical grade masks, as data has proven that cloth masks do not prevent the spread of the Omnicron Variant.
    5. Wipes in every room, hand sanitizer, hand washing stations, and working air ventilation machines.
    6. Increasing remote workforce for staff members and students whose presence isn't necessary in the building, ensuring that they are engaged with school affairs virtually through funding all necessary software.
    7. Hiring extra staff to support separate students' instruction into smaller cohorts. The more adult support that is in a school creates accessibility for social distancing and the downsizing of class sizes, but also gives us students more one-on-one individual time with our teachers. This kind of support helps build human connection/ relationships within our school communities that benefit the nourishment of our minds, bodies, and spirits. Adding a process where students have the option to be assigned to someone in their school community to check-in everyday.
  1. Teachers play an essential role in the process of learning. They don't deserve to have to put their work over their health. There wouldn't be a teacher who would inherently hinder the education of any students since their entire profession is to ensure that students are educated, cared for, and loved. In order to teach they must think of students' best interest. CPS should allow:
    1. Teachers will be able to choose if they want to teach virtual or in the building… (elaborate on care and open to options)
    2. Take a leave of absence regarding concerns of Covid.
    3. Abolishment of threats of no pay status, CPS should never have the ability to.
    4. Give time for staff to prepare for the proposed plan before students return to school.
    5. Additional substitutes.
    6. Offer spaces of healing and community building.
  1. As of right now winter sports are ending and spring sports are just conditioning. It's a dwindling of activities but if some should occur, CPS should allow them to. Students need to engage with peers during this time, they can meet in person or in virtual spaces. People should be able to still engage with things that keep us going, our interest outside of academia, our hobbies. While considering everything that's happening all the time it should look different:
    1. Moving to larger unoccupied classrooms and spaces inside the school
    2. Small cohorts of groups up to 15 
    3. No spectators for sports
    4. Fully masked 
    5. Vaccine required
    6. Contact tracing
  1. There is no blanket plan that will work for every school and every student. To try to make one would deny some group, it's inevitable. The schools should have their own ability to create plans that work best for their environment and their students. Every school should have a peer pod task force that makes up members of the school body, including teachers, staff, students, parents, and administration to create the school's specific Covid Response Plan. The aspects of school that should be considered is:
    1. The way the building should be used and occupied (adding additional supports of childcare, open space for students who don't want to be at home, additional space for distancing during times of no instruction)
    2. Shift of scheduling and class times that works better during these times
    3. Creating teams of peer/teacher support, where classmates openly can communicate the individual needs of peers and at the same time, these needs can be communicated to school administrators
    4. Restorative practices 
    5. Extra supports needed that CPS need to provide 
    6. Community building 
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