CPS Students Hold Walkouts in Support of Gaza Cease-Fire

Video: Students at Lane Tech High School staged a walkout on Jan. 30, 2024, in support of a cease-fire in Gaza. (Paris Schutz / WTTW News)

High school students at several Chicago Public Schools staged a noon walkout and protest in support of a proposed Chicago City Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

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Students from Ogden International High School and Walter Payton College Preparatory High School marched to City Hall, carrying signs and chanting slogans such as “Viva Vida Palestina” and “our tax dollars are being used to commit war crimes.”

At Lane Tech College Prep High School, what appeared to be at least 100 students gathered peacefully outside the school’s front door carrying signs that said “Cease Fire Now” and “Free Palestine.”

The City Council resolution calling for a cease-fire is Gaza is largely symbolic and could be voted on at Wednesday’s meeting.

Another group of council members joined leaders from Chicago’s Jewish community to support a resolution calling for the unconditional release of hostages held by Hamas and the release of bodies killed during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel.

The action came amid worries from some CPS parents and Jewish groups that Jewish students could be targeted or made to feel uncomfortable.  

An Instagram post from an account called Vonwalkout, promoting the walkout at Von Steuben High School, contained the slogan “from the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free.” Groups like the Anti-defamation League has referred to the slogan as antisemitic and calling for the removal of Jews from the region.

Others say the phrase simply refers to the right of Palestinians to self-determination and the ability to live anywhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Representatives from the Jewish United Fund sent a letter to CPS officials expressing concern over the walkouts, saying they believed the students were organized by outside groups.

“We hope that instruction is not interrupted due to a walkout and that school administrators and teachers pay special attention to how chanting of various slogans that usually accompany walkouts further isolates and intimidates Jewish or Israeli students, who are frequently subjected to harassment, violence, and ostracism due to their heritage or political beliefs,” the letter read.

The planned demonstrations also prompted guidance from CPS leadership asking staff members to ensure a “safe and welcoming environment for all” during the walkouts.

“We are a District that is committed to student voice and student participation in civic life and democracy, but harassment, discrimination, and bias-based harm have no place in our school communities,” the CPS letter read.

The walkouts also come one day after the Chicago Teachers Union and other labor groups publicly declared their support for a City Council ceasefire resolution.

In an internal memo, CTU leaders sought to dispel rumors that their members might have had a hand in organizing the student walkouts, and that teachers and staff should only act to protect or supervise students during the event.

“Members take special care. Your free speech rights are restricted while you are on the job,” the memo read.

On Oct. 7, Hamas launched an assault into Israel, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250.

Israel’s offensive has killed over 26,700 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, whose count does not separate civilians from combatants. Some 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes and the U.N. says a quarter of the population is starving.

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