CPS students walk out of class, rally for better COVID-19 safety measures, remote learning option

“I want everyone to like not die because COVID is really bad right now,” said a freshman at one North Side high school.

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Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students protest along West Madison Street after gathering outside the Chicago Public Schools headquarters in the Loop during a district-wide walkout to demand Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health Dr. Allison Arwady and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez to include them in the conversation about COVID-19 safety in schools, Friday afternoon, Jan. 14, 2022. Many students advocated for remote learning and stood with the Chicago Teachers Union which has been pushing for improved COVID-19 safety protocols in schools. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Several hundred students walked out of classes Friday to rally outside Chicago Public Schools downtown headquarters, calling for additional COVID-19 safety measures during the Omicron surge — mirroring concerns previously expressed by teachers.

Students waved signs calling for making remote learning an option and briefly occupied the intersection of State and Madison streets. One student climbed a traffic light.

“I want to go remote,” said Justin Frausto, 17, a junior at Lake View High School. “There’s way too many people not wearing masks properly at my school and no enforcement. Bro, I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want that s---. I don’t want to die or my family to die.”

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Lasandra Curry, a freshmen at Walter Payton College Prep High School, said she was concerned about catching the virus at school and passing it to her three-year-old brother or her mother.

“My mother is a diabetic with heart problems. We’re scared. I’d like to switch to remote learning for two weeks,” she said.

The demands echoed one of the safety protocols the Chicago Teachers Union called for, but didn’t receive, during a standoff with CPS leadership that resulted in five days of canceled classes before students returned to school earlier this week.

Students expressed disappointment with the mayor — who refused to allow remote learning — chanting, “Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! Lori Lightfoot’s got to go!” and “Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”

Many students reported that school administrators said they would be penalized if they attended the protest, an issue CPS addressed in a statement issued later Friday:

“There were no situations where students were prohibited from leaving any schools. The District fully supports civic engagement” and “participation, in itself, would not be grounds for consequences under CPS policies.”

Some students, including several from Lane Tech College Prep, admitted they attended the rally because it was a good excuse to skip class.

But most said students had not been consulted during the standoff with teachers.

Tariq Wrightington, a senior at Harlan Community Academy High School, said he attended the rally because he feels students aren’t being heard.

“We feel like we don’t have a voice. Our teachers did all they could. We need to stand up. We’re the next generation,” he said.

“I think we should at least have the option to go remote if we want,” said Keagan Aseoche, a sophomore at Amundsen High School.

Fiona Mae Mix, a freshman at Alcott College Prep, said she favors remote learning, especially because her mother has kept her home for the past week due to COVID concerns.

“I want everyone to like not die because COVID is really bad right now and I have a little brother at home,” she said.

In a statement, the district said it “has made the health and safety of its students and staff its top priority. ... As a District, we want to ensure that we always listen to the opinions and feedback of our student leaders and will continue to work with students on this very important matter.”

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