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Dyett Protesters Say CPS is Urging Students to Abandon School

By Ted Cox | August 25, 2014 3:06pm
 Jitu Brown led Dyett High School protesters at City Hall Monday.
Jitu Brown led Dyett High School protesters at City Hall Monday.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Dyett High School students are being urged by CPS to abandon the school immediately, before its final year begins, according to protesters trying to keep the school open.

Dozens of protesters with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School sought a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall Monday and were told one would be scheduled at their convenience. They also asked that Dyett students receive reassurances from Chicago Public Schools that their senior year would not be disrupted.

"Students from Dyett have received phone calls from Chicago Public Schools encouraging them to leave Dyett and go to either Hyde Park or go to Bronzeville Scholastic Institute," said Jitu Brown, an education organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and the national Journey for Justice Alliance. He added the students would be "displaced for the last year of their high-school career."

 Community activists want to make Dyett into a Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.
Community activists want to make Dyett into a Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

The Board of Education voted two years ago to "phase out" Dyett by the end of the 2014-2015 school year, when the last of its students were on target to graduate. CPS confirmed Monday that it was reaching out to students to gauge their interest in remaining to the end.

"Chicago Public Schools officials have contacted the remaining 21 students who are enrolled at Dyett High School to explore their interest in transferring to another school for their senior year," said CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey. "Many of the students have already embraced the idea of transferring or are considering the possibility, as the small class size limits the variety of available classes as well as the social opportunities many students look forward to in their senior year. CPS understands how important it is to many of the students that they graduate from Dyett, and is providing students the option of having diplomas from Dyett High School regardless of which school they attend their senior year."

The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School has proposed converting it into the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School as soon as this fall. That curriculum conversion was designed with the input of education experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Brown University, as well as Teachers for Social Justice and the Chicago Teachers Union.

According to Brown, the U.S. Department of Education is about to release guidelines on a newly approved "fifth option" allowing School Improvement Grants for "innovative new models," with an emphasis on "community input and community control." He sought a meeting with Emanuel to deliver their case to convert the school and pursue those federal grants.

"Any time you want to schedule a meeting, we can do that," said Ken Bennett, Emanuel's deputy chief of staff, to protesters after Monday's demonstration outside the mayor's office. "We listen to the community. ... You'll get some answers."

Rico Gutstein, a UIC education professor who helped develop the conversion plan, said they had presented it to Board of Education President David Vitale and "he liked our plan."

According to Gutstein, Vitale said he would talk with CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, adding, "I'll tell her we talked and she should listen."

The coalition has clashed repeatedly with Ald. Will Burns (4th). Burns has insisted he too wants to keep Dyett open as a neighborhood, open-enrollment high school, but has rejected KOCO's conversion proposal, saying it represents just one group of residents in the neighborhood.

"We have jumped through every hoop with Ald. Will Burns," Brown said Monday, adding they were abandoning lobbying efforts with him.

"We have tried unsuccessfully to engage Ald. Burns in this process," said Duane Turner, a 4th Ward resident. "Our community wants a school our children can walk to."

According to Turner and Brown, Dyett is under investigation for civil-rights violations by the U.S. Department of Education. Brown, who has argued that school closings are a civil-rights issue and has pressed that case nationally through the Journey for Justice Alliance, said Monday's protest was part of a series of 14 nationwide protests by the Journey for Justice Alliance and that federal civil-rights investigations were also underway in New Orleans and Newark, N.J.

"We will fight, and we're not gonna give up," said Dyett parent Irene Robinson.

"We are not going away," Brown said. "We are prepared for a protracted fight."

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