Hunger Strike Over Future Of Chicago School Enters Its 11th Day

Aug 27, 2015
Originally published on August 27, 2015 10:18 pm

Parents, teachers and activists are fighting to defend a high school the Chicago Public School Board voted to close several years ago. They say officials who called for proposals on what type of school to reopen are ignoring their plan.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There have been big battles over education in Chicago in recent years, including a school strike and one of the largest school closures in U.S. history. Now a small group of parents, teachers and activists are in the 11th day of a hunger strike. It's a fight over a high school, and it's part of the national conversation about the state of neighborhood schools. The hunger strikers got a boost yesterday when the head of the American Federation of Teachers came to town. NPR's Cheryl Corley has the story.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: There's a big yellow sign at the front of the now-shuttered Dyett High School with the school's name on it and a slogan underneath that says, new century, new needs, new direction. And it's the direction of the school which has long been at odds in this neighborhood. Now a group of a dozen parents, teachers and community activists are camped out in lawn chairs in front of the high school holding a hunger strike which is beginning to take its toll.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When'd you take your blood sugar?

CORLEY: Paramedics surround Jitu Brown, who served on Dyett's local school council, after a near fainting spell. Others have had trouble too, including a grandmother who was hospitalized briefly but returned to the protest. Brown, who decided not go to the hospital, says he and the others are in it for the long haul.

JITU BROWN: We're united. You feel your energy going down, you know what I mean? And that is happening, but we have no other choice. We have no other choice.

CORLEY: Dyett High School was once a mainstay in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood on the city's south side. But the area lost population, and the school district announced it would close the school in phases beginning in 2012. The last class of 13 students graduated in June. In the interim, the board reversed its decision and announced Dyett would reopen in 2016. For two years, the hunger strikers and others in the coalition to revitalize Dyett have pressed the board to accept their plan to turn Dyett into a global leadership and green technology high school. Anna Jones has four school age children.

IMARA JONES: We're demanding a community-driven school that will anchor our community for generations to come. Parents are not wrong in asking for equal educational opportunities for our children.

CORLEY: The coalition plan was developed with education experts at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Chicago Public School teachers and others. The school board put out a request, though, for other proposals, so now there are three - one, a contract school focused on arts. Another would have students explore and prepare for sports related jobs.

The coalition says their proposal is being ignored. School officials say the board is reviewing proposals, but the board's decision to delay its election until next month sparked the hunger strike. The national advocacy group the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools supports the coalition, and so does the American Federation of Teachers. President Randi Weingarten showed up for a rally yesterday.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: The issue around the country is people want, parents want, communities want great neighborhood public schools. And this community has a fantastic plan.

CORLEY: And Weingarten said she had a question.

WEINGARTEN: Why would anyone, in 2015 in the city of Chicago, be on a hunger strike to actually get our children the education they deserve?

CORLEY: Activist Jitu Brown says he hopes Chicago's mayor and his appointed school board hear their message.

BROWN: That the world knows that people are starving themselves just so that their children have a world-class high school down the street from their homes.

CORLEY: The Chicago School Board also heard from protesters on Wednesday, but it's not scheduled to hold a public hearing on Dyett until mid-September. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.