CITY HALL — How did it reach the point that a dozen Bronzeville activists went on a hunger strike to save Dyett High School and have it converted to a Global Leadership and Green Technology academy?
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School grew out of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which, as one political writer recently put it, has been feuding with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Will Burns (4th) — to name just two prominent targets — "for so long most people have forgotten what they're fighting about."
Yet, just to stick to Dyett, the organization's Executive Director Jawanza Malone said Thursday during a protest at City Hall that it went back six years, to when Chicago Public Schools was first considering shutting down Dyett, a high school at the north end of Washington Park.
By the end of 2011, CPS was moving forward on a plan to "phase out" Dyett, allowing students to remain there to finish their high-school education, but closing it after the final senior class graduated in 2015.
In response, and in a bid to keep the school open, the Coalition to Save Dyett High School came up with a proposal to covert it into a Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. That 57-page plan, developed with the help of educators at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been circulating for at least two years.
Beginning at this time a year ago, when the last senior class was about to start school, things got serious. Activists charged CPS was trying to get students to transfer to other schools so Dyett could be closed immediately.
In the end, 13 students stayed on to finish their senior year and graduate from Dyett.
Then, in December, CPS did an abrupt about-face, issuing a request for proposals to reopen Dyett in 2016. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett complained that its proposal was already on the table, adding the school could be kept open this fall if CPS accepted it. Yet CPS stuck with its plan, with an overview web page found here.
The coalition formally resubmitted its proposal, joined by a competing concept from Bronzeville's Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy. After an initial deadline had passed, CPS also accepted a proposal from Dyett's then-Principal Charles Campbell to create a Washington Park Athletic Career Academy.
Activists cried foul, but continued to push for their proposal with a decision set for August. When, a month ago, CPS pulled back on that and put a decision off to September, pleading for time for its new leadership to consider the three plans, things bubbled over, and a dozen Dyett activists went on hunger strike Aug. 17, demanding the acceptance of their proposal.
They feel their proposal is clearly the best of the three, and they feel played by CPS and Emanuel, who they believe came up with the CPS RFP for Dyett in December as a campaign promise to win votes in Bronzeville.
Some have complained about their harsh tactics, but they believe their cause is right and that desperate times call for desperate measures — and their protests have been growing in size with additional followers on a daily basis, even after Dyett protesters shut down a mayoral budget forum at the South Shore Cultural Center Wednesday night.
Can the mayor and CPS accede to their demands without appearing to give in to pressure tactics? Would the hunger strikers halt their protest before a CPS hearing set for Sept. 15 without receiving assurances their plan would be chosen? Would CPS even pull the entire reopening of Dyett off the table, claiming low likely enrollment and a budget crunch, as it has recently hinted? All those questions remain in play.
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