Chicago hunger strike activists say plan to reopen high school next year is ‘a sham’
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, the Chicago Public Schools said on Thursday.
The new Dyett High School will focus on students from the neighborhood and a dozen nearby schools, and the building will have a separate community innovation lab, the district said.
Area activists said the plan did not reflect the community’s views and would not end the nearly three-week-old hunger strike, the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper reported.
“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 Sun-Times.
The protests over Dyett 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.
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.
“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.
The Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school system in the country, is cutting jobs, seeking a state bailout and struggling to beef up underfunded pensions.
District officials had said there were 12 other high schools within three miles of Dyett, which is on the edge of the Bronzeville neighborhood, a cultural mecca for African-Americans fleeing the South a century ago.
Activists said that without Dyett local students must travel farther to other schools, compete for hard-to-get seats in selective public schools or look to charter or private schools.
But they also say political leaders cannot be trusted when it comes to education in the city and the “compromise plan” does not take into account the community’s desire for a school focused on careers in green technology.
Charter schools, which are free and open to the public, are run by private companies that compete for state funds. They have been criticized in Chicago and around the country partly because of their economic model and their often nonunionized staff.
The Chicago Teachers Union supports the Dyett protests.
The new school is expected to grow to 550 students, the district said.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis)
Watch a report on the school’s reopening, as aired on WGN-TV, below.