Parents in Chicago have endured a hunger strike lasting over a week to protest the local board of education’s decision to shut down a neighborhood high school.
Dyett High School, on Chicago’s South Side, graduated its final class of 13 students last June. The school has long struggled with both low enrollment and poor academics, and so several years ago city officials decided to pull the plug on the school, either closing it entirely or repurposing it as a charter or magnet school, meaning it will no longer be a traditional neighborhood school.
That has outraged the mostly black residents of the surrounding neighborhood, who have formed a Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School. Since Monday of last week, a dozen parents and activists have been on a hunger strike, publicly subsisting solely on liquids in order to pressure the administration of mayor Rahm Emanuel to give in to their demands.
Strikers say the decision to shutter the school reflects Emanuel’s utter neglect of Chicago’s black community.
“Black low-income and working families are being ignored by the mayor and the alderman,” striker Jeanette Taylor-Ramann told a local news affiliate. “People are putting their lives at stake in order to save a neighborhood high school.” Taylor-Ramann says that with Dyett shuttered, her daughter will have to travel 16 miles via two buses and a train in order to get to school.
“That’s not bad parenting,” she told The Huffington Post’s Black Voices. “That’s her living in a city and a district that doesn’t value her because of the color of her skin.”
Taylor-Ramann and the rest of the Coalition want the school to be converted into a specialty school dedicated to “global leadership and green technology,” which would also have a focus on agriculture science and cultural awareness. Under their proposal, Dyett would remain a neighborhood school, though it would offer open enrollment to anybody else in the city who wishes to attend.
Starving for the sake of a high school may seem drastic, but the strikers are winning national support. The Rev. Jesse Jackson briefly joined their strike last week, and on Wednesday Randi Weingarten, president of the country’s second-largest teachers union, plans to meet with them.
Chicago school officials have said they are continuing to review proposals for Dyett and will make a final decision in September.
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