CPS students: “Our voice matters”

María Marta Guzmán

Two days after Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students returned to in-person classes, they were out once again. But this time protesting what they are calling a lack of school safety Covid-19 measures. 

On Friday, hundreds of CPS students citywide walked out of their classes midday. The walkout comes as a response to the district’s decision to return to in-person courses during the height of the Omicron variant without hearing students’ personal and academic needs. 

Organized by Chicago Public School’s Radical Youth Alliance (Chi-RADS), a youth organization representing CPS high school students, students walked out of their high schools at 12:30 p.m. to gather outside the CPS Headquarters at 42 W. Madison St. at around 1:30 p.m. 

The student walk-out came after weeks-long negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez on whether or not students should attend in-person classes after increasing Covid-19 cases. 

Students from different schools and grades arrived in groups, many traveling in ​​Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) services. Students, some still wearing school uniforms, held banners, cardboard signs, and posters reading messages like “We are not disposable” and “Safe schools should not be a debate.” 

Adam Gharib, 17, a junior at Ogden International High School located in River West, participated in the walkout. Ogden students who participated in the walkout first circled and chanted around their school before traveling downtown.

“We felt like it was our turn, we didn’t get an option for us to pick what we wanted to do, so I wanted to make sure that everyone knew what I wanted,” Gharib said.

Students like Gharib felt like the students’ voices were not present in CPS negotiations. 

Students missed five full days of classes during the CPS and CTU negotiations over remote learning and Covid-19 protocols.  

“Our voice matters,” Gharib said. “We have opinions, we are a very opinionated generation, and we deserve an opportunity to say what we think and need.”

When asked if students at Ogden faced penalties for participating in the walkout, he explained that students who were not present for their last period class would be marked absent but that students were okay with the decision. He added that administrators and staff supported students voicing and protesting their concerns.  

Gharib said his school was 100 percent supportive. Teachers and staff stopped their classes to cheer us on. Our principal was even outside supervising us.

Some of the demands students and Chi-RADS youth are seeking include funding CTA cards, proper school building maintenance, funding music and art programs, sustainable and efficient contact tracing, free vaccine education for non-native English speaking parents, school vaccine centers, and sufficient N95 masks. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, CPS responded to students’ walkout by stating that “Chicago Public Schools (CPS) makes the health and safety of its students and staff its top priority,” and that “CPS remains committed to fostering learning environments that allow students to respectfully deliberate issues with evidence and an open mind — and safely participate in civic action.”

Meanwhile, Lightfoot and Martinez have not commented on Friday’s action. 

Jonathan Bailon, 15, a sophomore at William Jones College Preparatory High School, located in the South Loop, decided to stop his school day filled with classes because he is “tired of not being heard” and “tired of CPS not fighting for our safety and the safety of our teachers.” 

Bailon, who is an Austin resident, explained that not every member of his household is yet vaccinated.

“My parents are concerned about me and my siblings getting sick and bringing [the virus] home to my younger brother who is not yet vaccinated,” he said. 

Like Gharib, Bailon said teachers and staff at Jones supported students to walk out, adding “they had our back.”

Students at Jones, George Washington High School, Senn High School, Solorio Academy High School, Lincoln Park High School, John Hancock High school, and others relied on social media as a way to spread awareness and organize the walkout. 

Christopher Rocha, 17, a junior at William Jones College Preparatory High School, shared that he is concerned about exposing his grandparents to the virus now that in-person classes have resumed.

“Our voices are not really being heard by CPS, our teachers are supportive but it’s the higher-ups that are not taking into account our situations,” Rocha said. 

Rocha said that he understands why students are back in person but believes that for the moment due to high Covid-19 cases, remote learning should continue to be an option. 

“I think [CPS] wants us to think that our voices are being heard, they act like they are listening but don’t take into account what we are saying,” Rocha said. 

Cover Photo: A CPS student holds a sign that reads “We demand our voices be heard,” Friday, Jan. 14. Picture by María Marta Guzmán

María Marta Guzmán is the Editor-in-Chief of La DePaulia, the online Spanish language section of The DePaulia, the award-winning newspaper produced by students at DePaul University. 

Guzmán is a Senior at DePaul University majoring in Journalism and double minoring in Spanish and Latino Media & Communication.

A bilingual journalist born in Managua, Nicaragua, Guzmán wants to use her journalism passion to serve as a voice for the Latino community by covering stories involving immigration and international issues in Latin America.

Publisher’s Notes: You can read Guzmán’s Spanish language version of the CPS COVID-19 protest by clicking on: Estudiantes de CPS organizan protestas exigiendo que sus voces sean escuchadas: “Nuestra voz importa.”

Illinois Latino News (ILLN) and La DePaulia are partners in best serving the Hispanic-Latino community.

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