CITY HALL — Local health professionals threw their support behind the Dyett High School hunger strikers Thursday and urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step in and end the impasse.
"This is truly an emergency," said Dr. Linda Rae Murray, retired former chief medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, as she delivered a letter Thursday signed by 17 local doctors and nurses to Emanuel's office on the fifth floor of City Hall.
"We consider the current situation to be a deepening health emergency in our city," the letter states. "It is one you can abate by reaching out to the strikers, entertaining their grievances and accepting their proposal."
"We're here as medical professionals to inform the public to call on the mayor to take action immediately," Murray added.
The dozen Dyett hunger strikers were in their 11th day without solid food Thursday, demanding that Chicago Public Schools accept their plan to convert the high school into a Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy.
Murray and Erin Raether, a registered nurse who has tended to the strikers, said their health was "fragile" and in danger of "complications." Murray called the situation "very dangerous," and even deadly.
"This has become a really serious issue," Raether said. "We believe the mayor needs to respond to a health emergency."
Yet Emanuel hinted Thursday the entire Dyett reopening may be in doubt.
While saying that his newly appointed Board of Education President Frank Clark and CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool are "going to work through a number of issues as it relates to the Dyett High School, its future and its part of the community," he immediately pointed out there are 10 high schools within a three-mile radius of Dyett.
"Within about a mile of the school is King College Prep," Emanuel added during an impromptu news conference Thursday morning. "So there’s a lot of high schools in that area. How do you talk about another one when even some of the high schools within the three-mile radius are not at capacity yet? That’s an issue that Frank and Forrest are going to work through."
CPS echoed that later Thursday in a formal statement. "CPS 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 three-mile radius," said Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson. "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."
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett has insisted all along that the Bronzeville area needs its own open-enrollment high school.
According to Murray, the World Medical Association has set guidelines in dealing with a hunger strike, including that strikers be informed of the risks, but that their ultimate decision be respected.
Murray took that a step further Thursday, saying they back their Dyett proposal.
"We support the goals of this coalition," Murray said. "Medically, we're backing them up and helping them work through this."
"They have the right, and we support their decision to continue with this," Raether added.
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.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School's green campus plan has the support of more than 100 educators at local colleges and universities, including those who worked on it at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
CPS first proclaimed the school to be closed, then reversed field earlier this year and put out a request for proposals to reopen it in 2016. Although CPS has had the formal proposal for years, the coalition went ahead and formally submitted it, joined by a competing proposal from Bronzeville's Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy.
After a deadline for proposals passed, CPS also accepted another proposal from the Dyett principal to convert the school into a sports-oriented academic high school.
CPS put the three proposals out to a public meeting in June, but earlier this month reversed field again and put off a decision until September, prompting the hunger strike.
The next formal action on the matter is another public hearing set for Sept. 15. The Dyett hunger strikers have not signaled any interest in halting the protest.
Pointing out that was "several weeks away," Murray said, "I really hope that it's not allowed to go that long."
The Board of Education resisted calls to take immediate action at its meeting Wednesday, even as hunger striker Jeanette Ramann collapsed after addressing the board.
The hunger strikers requested that Little Black Pearl withdraw its proposal with a protest outside its offices at 1060 E. 47th St. on Monday, but the art school denied that request.
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