The Rev. Jesse Jackson has joined parents in a hunger strike over plans for Dyett High School. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Rev. Jesse Jackson joins parents in hunger strike over new Dyett school

SHARE Rev. Jesse Jackson joins parents in hunger strike over new Dyett school
SHARE Rev. Jesse Jackson joins parents in hunger strike over new Dyett school

They’ve begged, pleaded. They’ve been arrested at City Hall sit-ins. All to no avail.

So this week, Chicago Public Schools parents who have fought for a community-backed proposal for the former Dyett High School for nearly five years went on a hunger strike.

And on Tuesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson joined them.

“Why is this fight still ongoing? These parents have been legitimately asking for equal, high-quality public education in their neighborhood. We want to know from the mayor, the school board, why that has been blocked,” Jackson said Tuesday, with the 12 parents at Rainbow PUSH headquarters.

Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett have lobbied for years on behalf of the neighborhood school — first to prevent its 2012 phaseout, then to put another neighborhood school in the building, partnering with Chicago Botanic Garden, DuSable Museum and others to propose a Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

After Dyett graduated its final class of 13 seniors in June, CPS asked for other proposals without considering the community’s plan, leading disheartened coalition members to conduct sit-ins and other protests, where they have been willing to be arrested.

The parents launched the hunger strike Monday, saying they are determined not to eat until their goals are met. Jackson, 73, began a hunger strike on Tuesday morning, joining in that pledge.

“Look at these parents. We often talk of the alternative, so much violence, so many school dropouts, absence of parents. And here you have high-quality commitment by parents to educate their children,” said Jackson.

“They’re continuously building private schools in our neighborhoods and charter schools are closing public schools, so that mothers whose children should walk to school at Dyett have to go 16 miles one way to school,” he said. “Please, Board of Education, please listen to these parents. Don’t turn your back on the legitimate cry of this community to educate their children in a safe, neighborhood school presented in a high-quality plan. Why the obstacles?”

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Tuesday the district will hold a public hearing on Sept. 15 for community members to provide additional input on proposals for the former Dyett site. The board is slated to vote on the finalist at its September meeting, with the chosen model for the school at 555 E. 51st St. opening in September 2016.

Two other proposals have been submitted. One is from Little Black Pearl, a not-for-profit arts organization that runs a contract school for CPS and proposes another contract school called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy for 650 students in grades nine through 12.

The other, for a sports-themed high school called “Washington Park Athletic Career Academy,” comes from Charles Campbell, the principal CPS brought in to phaseout Dyett, and is controversial because CPS decided to consider that proposal even though it was submitted after the district’s deadline.

“Chicago Public Schools is carrying out a community driven process to select a new high-quality school for the former Dyett site. 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,” McCaffrey said.

But the coalition said the statement was more of the same from CPS, remaining adamant about continuing the hunger strike — in front of Dyett in the mornings and in front of Rainbow PUSH at night — until CPS acts on the community’s proposal.

“What we are requesting is an emergency meeting on Dyett. We want the board to vote on Dyett now,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, which has helped parents in this fight since 2012.

“We’re here for them to make decisions in the best interest of our children. The community, in absence of a vision from CPS, developed a world-class proposal not only for Dyett but for six feeder schools in the area, a sustainable school village, a gift that has been ignored by CPS,” he said.

“We do not trust that the board’s announcement of a Sept. 15 hearing is honest, and that they will support a proposal that has overwhelming community support. So we will remain on this hunger strike until our voices are heard — just as the voices are heard in Lincoln Park, just as the voices are heard in Hyde Park.”

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