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Hospitalized Dyett Activist Returns to Continue Hunger Strike for 10th Day

By Sam Cholke | August 26, 2015 1:25pm
 Irene Robinson has returned to a 10-day hunger strike at Dyett High School after being hospitalized Monday for dangerously high blood pressure.
Irene Robinson has returned to a 10-day hunger strike at Dyett High School after being hospitalized Monday for dangerously high blood pressure.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

GRAND BOULEVARD — A dozen school activists are being forced to consider when to stop a 10-day hunger strike calling on Chicago Public Schools to make a decision on reopening Dyett High School after the first of the group was hospitalized.

Irene Robinson, grandmother of 14 CPS students, was admitted to Provident Hospital on Monday afternoon with dangerously high blood pressure.

“It’s uncontrollable right now, but they’re trying to manage it,” Robinson said Wednesday after being released from the hospital Tuesday. “The doctor said my heart is weak.”

Robinson was back in front of Dyett, 555 E. 51st St., on Wednesday and still holding to the hunger strike, having not eaten even in the hospital.

Organizers for the group said the medical staff monitoring the 12 on a hunger strike are starting to become worried as all are now showing more serious symptoms.

“The nurses are scared to death,” said Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

He said all of the group has now lost more than 10 percent of their body weight and the medical staff monitoring the situation have told them it is now more dangerous.

He said the group is experiencing fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and other symptoms of starvation.

“We’re not going to have people dying out here,” Malone said.

Though Malone said the group must now start considering when some of the dozen must stop, all twelve said they were committed to continuing the hunger strike until CPS makes a decision on Dyett.

The hunger strike started on Aug. 17 after CPS delayed a scheduled hearing on three proposals for reopening the school, the proposal authored by the activists for a district-run school focused on green technology, an arts-based contract school proposed by Little Black Pearl and a sports and business themed high school proposed by the school’s former principal Charles Campbell.

On Aug. 7, CPS said it needed more time to address the district’s budget woes and get new Board of Education members and administrators up to speed on all three proposals. The hearing was rescheduled for Sept. 15, with a vote expected by the board shortly after.

"Chicago Public Schools is carrying out a community-driven process to select a new high-quality school for the former Dyett site," said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for CPS, on Aug. 17. "Identifying a high-quality education option for the former Dyett site is a priority for the district, and CPS is reviewing school proposals to determine the best open enrollment, neighborhood education option for the site."

New board President Frank Clark met with the hunger strikers on Wednesday morning to discuss Dyett, according to CPS.

The group got an added boost of support on Wednesday when American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery and local and state politicians signed on in support of the activists plan for Dyett.

“This is the best proposal I have seen in my entire career,” Weingarten said at a Wednesday press conference at Dyett.

She said the hunger strike was a sincere sign of a community asking to take responsibility for its schools.

“This is justice, this is what you want communities to do,” Weingarten said of the plan submitted by community groups with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago Botanic Gardens, Chicago Teachers Union and others.

State Sen. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Chicago), state Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago), Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (7th), Ald. John Arena (45th) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) also publicly supported the hunger strikers and their proposal Wednesday.

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