Dyett High School Hunger Strike Continues, Despite CPS Announcement

It's day 31 of the Dyett High School hunger strike and there's still no sign of a deal that could end the standoff.

Despite Chicago Public Schools' announcement that it would reverse its plan to shutter Dyett and reinvent it as an open-enrollment, arts-themed high school, protesters are not ready to end their strike, arguing that the plan fails to consider the community’s input to convert Dyett to a Global Leadership and Green Technology academy.

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Two activists participating in the hunger strike join us to explain what triggered their action and why the proposed new school falls far short of their demands. We'll talk with Jitu Brown, national director for the Journey for Justice Alliance, and parent Anna Jones.

What sparked the strike

Dyett High School was phased out at the end of this past school year and CPS has since issued a request for proposals to reinvent the school. They received three. The Coalition to Revitalize Walter H. Dyett School proposed the Global Leadership and Green Technology model last April.

“We did our research, we partnered with academic experts, we brought parents and young people to the table, we got over 3,000 petition signatures for our plan and 578 Bronzeville residents mailed letters to the mayor. We held six town hall meetings and the community spoke,” said Jitu Brown, who is also a member of the Coalition to Revitalize Walter H. Dyett School, during a phone call on Wednesday with Chicago Tonight.

“The community said they wanted Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School and it’s really frustrating that taxpayers have to go to this length when you realize that you’ve been rendered voiceless.”

The coalition’s proposal lays the groundwork for an education plan that includes proposed curriculums, the school’s targeted communities (which includes 75 percent of the seats reserved for students in the existing Dyett boundary, 20 percent for students living in a secondary attendance area and 5 percent for city-wide applicants), staffing plans, financial budgets and more. Since Aug. 17, a group of parents and advocates in the Kenwood neighborhood have been on a hunger strike and continue to demand that CPS accept the coalition’s proposal.

“Why did we settle on Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School?," asked Brown. "Number one, Dyett sits in the heart of Washington Park. There’s a wildlife observatory there, there’s a fully functional pond where people go fishing, there’s a thriving youth-run farm and, most importantly, green technology is the number one growth industry in the U.S. So when the mayor imposed an arts school on the community, it was insulting and that’s why we didn’t stop. Because, what’s the number one industry for unemployment – the arts. We are not opposed to a strong arts program in our school, but we just want to see a school that prepares our young people to be the next scientists, the next civic leaders and the next doctors.”

What CPS says

In its Sept. 3 announcement, CPS states that the idea to transform Dyett into an open enrollment, arts-focused neighborhood high school was recommended by the Bronzeville Community Action Council (CAC) and that the council requested technology resources, as part of the 2013 CPS Educational Facilities Master Plan, that will provide students with skills for the 21st century.

“Our objective was to make the decision that best meets our children's needs, and this plan creates the opportunity for a unique, world-class high school on the south side,” said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. “Working with community partners, we arrived at a solution that meets multiple needs: creating an open enrollment neighborhood high school, producing an enrollment stream that can weather population changes, filling the critical demand for an arts high school on the south side and working with education leaders to create a technology hub.”

According to the announcement, the school will have a focus on performing, visual and digital arts, and will feature an Innovation Lab – with the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) serving as an advisor – that will offer technology training for the community, as well as students from other schools in the area.

“The Innovation Lab will serve as a community hub of innovation on the Southside, linking together the resources of local universities to ensure that students have access to resources and can gain the skills needed for the next century,” said CPS chief education officer Janice K. Jackson. “CPS principals, teachers, students and families will benefit from professionals with expertise in science, technology and math.”

Hear more from the activists Wednesday on Chicago Tonight.

On Aug. 31, Chicago Tonight reviewed the history of Dyett's closure, the hunger strike, and the proposals for a reinvented school. Revisit our story.

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