A shuttered Chicago high school that has been the subject of a hunger strike protest will reopen next year as an open-enrollment arts-oriented high school, according to administrators. But protesters, who called for the school to focus on careers in green technology, said that because their demands weren’t fully met, they plan to continue their fast.
The new Dyett High School will be open to students from the historically black South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville and a dozen nearby schools, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) said Thursday.
Protesters, who had called for the school to be reopened but not as an art institute, responded bitterly to the announcement.
“This is not what the community fought for, this is another slap in the face for us,” said hunger striker Jeanette Taylor-Ramann, 40. “The city never listens to the parents in the community, especially when the parents are black.”
Since August 17, twelve protesters — all parents of students except for one clergyman — have been on hunger strike over Dyett’s closure. Without Dyett, the protesters said, local students would have to travel farther to other schools, compete for hard-to-get seats in selective public schools or look to charter or private schools. Walking long distances to school also exposed children to risk, they said.
The hunger strike, which saw protesters only consume juice and water, intensified a long-standing battle between activists and the City of Chicago over school closures in minority neighborhoods. Dyett was one of dozens of underperforming schools the district has closed since 2013.
Advocates for public schools note that most of these closures happened in black or Hispanic communities, and that white neighborhoods on the city’s north side have been largely unaffected.
Activists supporting reviving Dyett have interrupted a school board meeting and this week disrupted two of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's open forums on the city budget. CPS, the third-largest school system in the country, is cutting jobs, seeking a state bailout and struggling to beef up underfunded pensions.
"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," CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement of the new school plan.
But protesters say political leaders cannot be trusted when it comes to education in the city and that the compromise plan doesn’t take into account their needs.
"This process has been a sham from the beginning and was created to simply award the school to a private operator," said group spokesman J. Brian Malone in a statement in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Al Jazeera and Reuters