Rebecca Klein- The Huffington Post
A group of Chicago residents finished the 11th day of a hunger strike last Thursday in an attempt to move the Chicago School Board to make a decision over the fate of a local school, Dyett High School.
The group of 12 has been going without solid food since Aug. 17, even after medical professionals expressed concern for their health.
While Dyett was once slated to close, the Chicago School Board is now set to weigh plans to reconstitute the school, although this process has been rife with delays. The protestors — part of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School — want the board not only to take immediate action, but also to accept their proposal to reopen the school as a district-run one that focuses on science.
The hunger strike has so far caused two protestors, Jeanette Taylor-Ramann and Irene Robinson, to spend time in the hospital. Both protestors still intend to forgo food for the indefinite future, fellow protestor Jitu Brown told The Huffington Post.
As a result of these health issues, a group of medical professionals urged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to intervene.
“We consider the current situation to be a deepening health emergency in our city,” said a letter from a group of medical professionals delivered to the mayor Thursday, per DNAinfo. “It is one you can abate by reaching out to the strikers, entertaining their grievances and accepting their proposal.”
As of last Thursday afternoon, the mayor had still not reached out to protestors. A request for comment from his office was not returned.
In 2013, Emanuel closed 49 Chicago schools that were underutilized and academically low-performing — a move that angered many local residents and advocates for neighborhood schools. In 2012, plans to close Dyett were announced for similar reasons. Protestors have worked for years to keep Dyett alive, but say the district’s reluctance to make a decision on this issue is unacceptable.
At a press conference last Thursday, Emanuel said there are a lot of schools in the Dyett area, so it might not make sense to “talk about another one when even some of the high schools within the three-mile radius are not at capacity yet,” according to DNAinfo.
A statement from CPS CEO Janice Jackson says the district is “is continuing to work through our process, but we are mindful of the declining population in the area, which is losing students and already has 12 high schools within a 3-mile radius. We respect the community’s passion for Chicago’s children, and we will make the best possible decision to give all the children of the city a good education.”
Protester Jitu Brown says the district “refuses to work with the community.”
“What school district in their right mind would demonize and run away from parents that are activated to improve their schools?” said Brown.
He continued, “They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true.”
Rev. Robert Jones, a community pastor, does not have a child in the district, but is fasting with protestors because “the moral of it is right.”
“I pastor people in this community and interact with people in the community and what’s happening to them is wrong,” he said.
The protestors have gained the support of those in the community. On last Thursday, Brown estimated that 40 locals visited them, bringing water and juice. On Wednesday, the president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union, Randi Weingarten, joined the protestors.
“These hunger strikers are pursuing justice — not for themselves, but for our children,” Weingarten said. “And they’re not simply saying to the mayor or the school board ‘Do something.’ They have a plan that they have worked on. It is a fantastic plan. . . . This is a community that’s saying ‘We want to take responsibility,’” said Weingarten, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.