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Hundreds of Chicago students orchestrate school walkout and crowded protest to demand safer COVID-19 conditions, relief stipends, and laptops

Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Students in Chicago staged a walkout on Friday to demand safer school conditions during the surge of COVID-19 cases. The students also participated in a crowded protest where they made demands for remote learning, laptops, and COVID-19 relief stipends.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools agreed to reopen schools with in-person classes. However, hundreds of students participated in a walkout on Friday afternoon. The district-wide walkout of at least 500 students was organized by the Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance (Chi-Rads) – a self-described "organization of allied, radical CPS high schoolers from every corner of the city to organize to create an education system that best serves us."

The Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance issued a list of 39 demands for the Chicago Public Schools. The organization demanded that schools shift to remote learning for two weeks. The group called on Chicago Public Schools to increase the "remote workforce" for staff members and "students whose presence isn't necessary in the building."

The organization ordered the public school system to make accessible COVID-19 testing for all students, "sufficient N-95 masks along with the other face coverings PPE & medical grade masks."

The group requested mask and vaccine mandates, contact tracing, and no spectators at sporting events.

The students are also demanding Chicago Public Schools provide "every student with their own personal laptop," and the organization emphasizes that the laptops must have "4GB RAM & 512GB storage, and at least 8 hours of battery life."

The group said the students should be able to keep the laptops "during their entire duration as students, virtual or not." They also petitioned for "access to high speed wifi, that has at least 10 Mbps of download speed and 1 Mbps of upload speed."

The group also requests "personal tutors outside of school hours in every school."

The Chi-Rads claim, "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."

To remedy the "inequitable structures and oppressive systems," the group demands the school to "reload EBT cards" and hire "one full-time therapist/psychologist for every 30 students."

The students also require COVID-19 relief stipends.

"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," the list of demands states. "Many families are living paycheck to paycheck and this pandemic affects people’s ability to work; that, unfortunately, affects our ability to live."

The group also said teachers should have the decision of whether they want to teach remotely or in the classroom. The students said teachers should be able to "take a leave of absence regarding concerns of Covid."

The Chicago Public Schools Radical Youth Alliance also called for "spaces of healing and community building."

To show that they were serious about their demands for safer COVID-19 conditions, the hundreds of students participated in a crowded protest outside of the headquarters for Chicago Public Schools.

The students railed against Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot by chanting, "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Lori Lightfoot’s got to go!"

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