Students protest signs

CPS Students Demand Safe Reopening, Mental Health Support

The showdown between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union over school reopening won a brief reprieve yesterday, while negotiations continue. Chicagoans have heard plenty from teachers and parents about their views of remote learning and the current school reopening plan, butstudent voice has been harder to come by.

Until noon yesterday, that is, when young organizers from Good Kids Mad City, Chi Student Pandemic Response, Chicago Freedom School, and others gathered in front of Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Janice Jackson’s home to present three demands: continued remote learning for all students and staff until a safe reopening can be provided; increased access to “effective mental health resources” for CPS students, teachers and staff; and no grades this year for students–everyone should simply receive a “Pass.”

High school students who spoke noted that the counseling their high schools provide is solely focused on academics and college preparation. “They’re only qualified to hear that you’re stressing about failing a math class,” said a student speaker introduced by her first name, Azul. “I’ve personally gone to a counselor and told them my problems, and they’ve just stared at me. They don’t know what to say.”

“Last April, I was diagnosed with depression, and they did nothing for me,” said another student speaker, Lux. “They do not have the proper resources for that. Why do I need a college counselor as a freshman, when I need a therapist?”

Photo by Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney

Students also spoke about younger siblings who are struggling with remote learning, but insisted that a return to school is not the answer when teachers are showing photos on social media of poorly cleaned schools and inadequate PPE. Lux spoke about her younger brother’s struggle with remote learning. “My mom has to choose either to let him fail or risk the health of our entire family. Why is that even a conversation? Why is that a choice people have to make?”

Despite the weighty issues and the scary moment when a white truck drove into the crowd (no one was injured, fortunately), Chicago youth continued to bring joy and a sense of community to the streets.

Banner photo credit: Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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