I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write this column. I’d been hoping that, by today, we’d have seen some movement on the part of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to address the fate of Dyett High School and the proposal to transition the school to an open enrollment Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy.

I was hoping that after 11 days of a hunger strike, CPS would have made extra effort to address the concerns of the 12 parents who have put their lives on the line in the name of preserving the last open-enrollment high school in the Bronzeville community. These 12 represent not just Bronzeville, but the thousands of parents in communities across the city who are frustrated with an education system that continually ignores their input, claiming “school choice” with one hand, yet removing it with the other.

We are now on Day 12 and the lack of response on the part of the administration is bordering on the absurd.

Does it really require a hunger strike to get the attention of the administration? In Chicago, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Dyett High School in Bronzeville is the latest example of the “3 D’s” which have, for years, characterized the treatment of low income communities in Chicago and in this case, Chicago Public Schools: destabilization, disinvestment and disenfranchisement.

Destabilization in the form of tearing down public housing with an ill-executed plan to restore and return residents to their communities. Destabilization in the form of 50 shuttered schools based on an ill-prepared and ill-executed plan to transition students to new schools without any plan for reusing the behemoths that now sit vacant in the middle of communities.  

Disinvestment in the unwillingness to focus resources to spur development in other areas of the city — preferring instead to focus development on the Central Business District, while the city bleeds its tax base. This reality has forced residents to flee their disinvested neighborhoods for more affordable homes, better quality schools and safer communities.

And disenfranchisement — because this city’s leadership has been characterized by a preference of dashing down edicts to the masses, forcing them to choke down often-times ill conceived policies that only demonstrate the clear disconnect between this city’s leaders and the people they purport to serve.

CPS shuttered Dyett’s doors this year while they decide what to do with the school. The only other proposals are to make Dyett a charter school or to make it a contract school. If either of the other proposals are accepted, the Bronzeville community will have no open-enrollment high school that serve all children.

Dyett was severely destabilized when Chicago Public Schools decided to “turn-around,” convert to charter, or create selective enrollment in, 20 area schools near the school. Students were sent from school to school with very little cohesion with respect to community, teachers or curriculum. 

Dyett also experienced disinvestment. It was initially a middle school, but when CPS converted it to a high school, no resources were set aside to convert the school. For instance, there were no science labs and the school library only had seven books.

And finally, like many communities, Bronzeville was disenfranchised. CPS largely ignored the pleas of the community to fully resource the school. I respect the Dyett 12, because not only are they making the personal sacrifice with this hunger strike; but because they’ve done the behind-the-scenes, arduous planning and development work that epitomizes truly effective advocacy.

These aren’t protestors who simply showed up for a press conference. They did not sit down to wait for a mythical hero to take up their cause and fight for them. These parents represent proactivity and self-sufficiency that is so desperately needed in our communities.

They spent several years and enlisted the help of university professors and education experts to develop a comprehensive plan to create the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy. They also spent years doing community outreach and community engagement around the school’s concept, collected signatures from residents and held town halls to talk about the school’s plan.

These are parents who have put in the work and are making sacrifices not only for their children but for families who are rescuing the notion of ‘school choice’ so that it means real self-determination — the ability for a community to proactively develop and implement its vision for the kind of schools its children should attend. And what has been the city’s response to the actions of this proactive, self-determined community? Denial and delay.

This is unacceptable. This is not just about Dyett, or even Bronzeville for that matter. This struggle is about all families who demand the best schools for their children in an education system that has failed far too many. This is about a community that decided it was not going to wait for government to decide their children’s trajectory — they stepped in to play an active role in deciding that future for themselves. That is a truly empowered community. We must support the Dyett 12, because in their act of sacrifice, they liberate other communities to become empowered themselves.

3 replies on “In Bronzeville, a hunger strike for the ages”