On their 16th day without food — and without any commitment from Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Chicago Public Schools — hunger strikers pushing for a new neighborhood school in the historic Dyett building are taking their cause to the highest education official in the nation.
Two of the 12 hunger strikers, Jitu Brown and April Stogner, plus the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, are traveling to Washington, D.C., to deliver a letter to Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary and former head of CPS, urging him to push Emanuel “to do the right thing,” according to the union.
The supporters of the proposed Dyett Green Technology and Global Leadership High School succeeded in snagging an impromptu meeting Monday night with Emanuel, but they left without any decision on what to do with the school. The mayor, who had yet to meet with any of the Dyett supporters despite several sit-ins at City Hall, agreed to see them face-to-face to tamp down the loud chants and jeers directed at him.
“The mayor did not tell us that we will have Dyett Green Technology and Global Leadership High School, and until such time, we will continue our hunger strike,” Cathy Dale said Tuesday morning in a flat, strained voice outside Emanuel’s City Hall office. “They said they’re going to move as fast as they can on the decision.”
“They would not put a date,” she said.
The hunger strike began for Dale and 11 others on Aug. 17 in response to a CPS-instituted delay on the district’s own process to put a new school in building at 551 E. 51st St. that had housed Dyett High School until June. Phased out a year at a time since 2012, Dyett graduated just 13 seniors in June.
Facing public pressure, CPS put out a request for proposals and said the district would choose, in August, from the three it received so a new high school could open in September 2016. One of those proposals came from a contract operator; the other two were for district-run schools, including the one developed by the hunger strikers.
Last week, the district hinted it might not need any more schools in the neighborhood, citing declining demographics.
Dale, a local school council member at Mollison Elementary School and King College Prep High School, said the neighborhood children who joined her at City Hall to lobby the mayor deserve a solid neighborhood high school that isn’t run by a private operator.
“We’re not asking for any money. We’re not asking for a contract or a charter,” Dale said. “We’re simply saying, ‘Board, do your job.’ ”
Emanuel’s office released a statement Monday night: “The mayor appreciates there are strong feelings about Dyett, and he understands there is a desire for a quick resolution about its future, however what’s most important is the right decision. CPS is engaged in a thorough review of Dyett, and while they are closer to a decision, they continue to weigh all the factors at play in an effort to achieve the best outcome possible — one that will ensure a strong Bronzeville and a strong future for our children.”
The mayor did not provide any updates Tuesday. He faces two more public budget hearings later this week.
So far, four hunger strikers have needed medical attention. Dale said she went to see her doctor, who told her to eat.
“I’m having some very severe health issues,” she said. “You can go for yourself and find out what happens when you starve your body for five days, and this is day 16. My doctor’s not happy.”