Dyett Supporters End Campout with Promise From Ald. Will Burns for Meeting

By Sam Cholke on June 19, 2014 5:21am 

 Jeanette Taylor said she was fighting for Dyett Academic Center because she saw it as the only option for her son with special needs.
Jeanette Taylor said she was fighting for Dyett Academic Center because she saw it as the only option for her son with special needs.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

OAKLAND — A coalition of protesters fighting to keep Dyett Academic Center open ended three days and nights of camping out in front of Ald. Will Burns' 4th Ward office with a commitment from the alderman to host a meeting on the future of the school.

“I have committed in a series of documents and interviews on a communitywide planning meeting or charrette on the future of Dyett High School,” Burns said in a statement released by his office earlier this week. “Given the wide range of diverse opinions in our community, I believe that a charrette will offer all voices in the community, including the coalition, the opportunity to express their opinions on Dyett High School.”

Dyett, 555 E. 51st St., is scheduled by Chicago Public Schools to be phased out at the end of the 2015 school year.

School boosters from the neighborhood, surrounding schools, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and the Chicago Teachers Union pressured Burns all week to sign on to a plan that would keep the school open as an open-enrollment high school focused on urban agriculture and green technology.

“They have a good plan here,” said Michael Burnson, recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, in front of Burns’ office Wednesday. “We just need to make sure the alderman is on board.”

Burns said he was unwilling to sign on to the plan until he heard from the broader community and collected those opinions in a report.

The Dyett supporters responded that they have started a community process involving neighborhood groups, the Bronzeville and Hyde Park community action councils and affected schools when the announcement of the phase out was made in 2012, but Burns has declined to be an active participant. He was not at two town hall meetings at the school.

Burns office said the alderman was not invited to the town hall meetings and has attended multiple community meetings on the school, most recently in March 2013. He said his staff has attended other meetings and he's met with others in his office.

Jeanette Taylor, a member of the Mollison Elementary School Local School Council for the past 20 years, was out in front of Burns’ office Wednesday hoping the alderman would do more to keep Dyett open as an option for Mollison students.

“It’s the only school in Bronzeville, Oakland and Kenwood that is open to everyone,” Taylor said.

Taylor said she was already concerned about the lack of options for her 10-year-old son with special needs.

“He’s only in fourth grade and I’m already thinking about that now,” Taylor said. “What’s going to happen is I’m going to homeschool him.”

Taylor said she did not think her son would thrive under the zero-tolerance disciplinary policy at Phillips Academy High School, an Academy for Urban School Leadership turnaround school.

“He doesn’t have a chance in the world to go to King College Prep,” Taylor said, of the selective-enrollment high school.

She said eight special-needs students at Mollison this year had a similar problem finding a high school in the neighborhood that did not have some restrictions on enrollment.

Taylor said she thought the three schools in the DuSable High School building, the Betty Shabazz International Charter School, Williams Preparatory School of Medicine and the Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, were not well suited for students with special needs.

“There are no options,” Taylor said, adding that she does not live in the Kenwood Academy attendance area.

She said she was fighting for plan for Dyett because she saw it as the only option for her son.

"CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and CPS board members continue to receive proposals about the future of Dyett High School and they are interested to learn what the community thinks,” said Joel Hood, a spokesman for CPS. “While there are currently no plans in place following next year's scheduled closure, CPS is committed to working with the community to ensure that students in the North Kenwood and Oakland communities continue to have access to quality education options that will prepare them for success in college, career and in life.”

No date has yet been set for Burns’ meeting on Dyett.

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