Dyett compromise panned and praised

SHARE Dyett compromise panned and praised

Dyett hunger strikers Anna Jones (left) and Irene Robinson sat outside CPS headquarters Thursday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Reaction to the Chicago Public Schools compromise to end the long-running controversy over Bronzeville’s Dyett High School ranged Thursday from rejection by the hunger strikers to enthusiastic support from politicians.

“Eighty percent of that — which I am aware of — they were seeking, they have won,” U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush said of the hunger strikers after CPS announced Dyett will reopen as an open-enrollment arts-themed high school.

Pointing to his own history of activism, Rush said activists sometimes are blinded by their enthusiasm, and “we don’t really realize when we have won.”

Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, which has fought five years on behalf of the neighborhood school — first to prevent its 2012 phaseout, then to put another neighborhood school in the South Side building — maintained the CPS plan was far from their goals.

“This does not reflect the vision of the community,” the group said in a statement after reviewing the proposal that CPS hoped would end the 2 1/2-week hunger strike by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

And as for ending the hunger strike, the group’s spokesman, J. Brian Malone, said: “We haven’t made that decision yet.”

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As proposed by CPS, the school would give enrollment preference to students who live within the Dyett community boundaries. Remaining seats would be filled by a lottery. CPS said it settled on an arts program because that model attracts students from all over the city.

However, the hunger strikers rejected the plan and those who would be involved in carrying it out.

“None of the leaders who are there have been invested in the process. Many of them have existing contracts with the city or have been on the payroll. The mayor has lied to us and the taxpayers of this city. This process has been a sham from the beginning and was created to simply award the school to a private operator,” Malone said.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool had placed a personal call to KOCO and hunger strike leader Jitu Brown to share the plan before announcing it, and said later that he knew the hunger strikers were “disappointed.”

“We hope that they will recognize that this is a win for everybody,” Claypool said, maintaining the district’s goal was simply “to do what was right for the children.”

Claypool and other officials repeatedly referred to the compromise solution as a win for the entire community — not just the hunger strikers. And Claypool added there was “a lot of objective evidence” that the community wanted a school with a focus on arts.

“It is, I think, something that really represents the will of the community,” Claypool said. “And more importantly than anything else, the needs of the children who live in Bronzeville and the surrounding areas.”

Several of the 12 coalition members who have waged the 18-day hunger strike sat outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Thursday as the announcement was being made, claiming security refused to let them in.

Earlier in the day, backed by about 100 protesters, the hunger strikers had protested at City Hall, chanting outside the mayor’s fifth-floor office as they’ve done several times during the saga, then held a sit-in in the first-floor lobby, where between 13 and 15 people were detained for blocking City Hall elevators.

The group, which has demanded CPS implement a community-backed proposal for the former Dyett High School — a Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School — began their hunger strike on Aug. 17, vowing not to eat solid food until their goals are met.

After the group had lobbied for years, CPS asked for other proposals without considering the community’s plan. Two other proposals were being considered.

One was from Little Black Pearl, a not-for-profit arts organization that runs a contract school for CPS and proposed another contract school called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy for 650 students in grades nine through 12 at Dyett. The other, for a sports-themed high school called “Washington Park Athletic Career Academy,” comes from Charles Campbell, the principal CPS brought in to phase out Dyett.

Bronzeville area Ald. William Burns (4th) lauded the CPS compromise. Burns said he “wouldn’t have any issue” with KOCO participating “in a community process like anybody else. But we have to do it in a respectful way. And part of the challenge of that organization is that they have not been willing to hear other voices. They wanted their solution and their solution only.”

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