High school students at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy on the Lower West Side staged a sit-in Tuesday protesting lunch policy, outdated books, bathroom conditions and its board meeting locations.
The sit-in drew over a hundred students, some who skipped portions of their second period.
Teri Argos, a spokeswoman for Instituto del Progreso Latino, initially denied that the demonstration took place and refused to comment unless seeing photo evidence first.
“There was a student-led forum today where we listened to their concerns and identified feasible solutions,” Argos later said in a statement after photos of the sit-in were provided. “As a result, a student panel was formed to continue the conversation and create a space for problem-solving.”
“When I walked in, the cafeteria was filled with students,” said a teacher at Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, who asked to remain anonymous. “Our CEO, principal, the two assistant principals were there and they all were communicating with the kids.”
The teacher said she overheard CEO Karina Ayala-Bermejo agree to have all board meetings at the school instead of the inside of downtown banks as it has had in the past.
Daniel Nunez, an 18-year-old senior at the school, helped organize the sit-in. He said it was directly in response to a rally held at the charter school’s board meeting Monday evening at BMO Harris Bank, 111 W. Monroe St.
“These meetings should be opened to the public and at our school,” Nunez said.
Nunez said he plans to hold her accountable to her promise.
Danny Ramos, an 18-year-old junior at Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, said his peers were also asking for a better educational environment with updated textbooks instead of printed PDFs. He also wanted a better understanding as to why they need consent to bring their own lunch. He personally wanted more privacy in the bathrooms.
Many of the bathroom stalls in the boy’s restroom have had its doors or locks removed, Ramos said. He describes it as a prison, unable to use the restroom without any privacy. Friends will stand in front of the bathroom to keep watch, he said.
“It’s really difficult for us to do our business there without any doors,” Ramos said. “I sometimes just avoid using the bathroom altogether.”
Argos said students are allowed to bring their own lunch “so long as they have a note from a medical professional indicating dietary restrictions.” As for the bathroom stall doors, new doors have been ordered to replace broken ones, Argos said.
But Ramos said it’s been two years since the restrooms had any working doors.
This tension comes as a new contract negotiation between CTU-ACTS and Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy are underway.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.