The Dyett Hunger Strike for Education Justice in Chicago

Open Letter to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

The hunger strike in Chicago by parents and their allies at Dyett High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood has passed Day 31.

Despite the recent announcement from Chicago Public Schools officials that Dyett will reopen as a school with a focus on the arts, parent and community hunger strikers there have vowed to continue the strike until the school district agrees to their demands. “I will continue to be on this hunger strike until we get the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology school,” said Irene Robinson. “This is not right.”

The hunger strike at Dyett is not an isolated incident of disgruntled parents and community members; it is part of a grassroots movement to challenge corporate school reform, which evaluates and punishes students, teachers, and schools based on standardized test scores. The efforts of Dyett parents and grandparents in Bronzeville are joined with other acts of defiance throughout the country: parents withholding their students from standardized tests, teachers burning their evaluations and refusing to administer tests that they deem harmful, students walking out of school to protest the test and punish regime, communities fighting against the privatization of their public schools.

The hunger strikers in Chicago join with other courageous hunger strikers throughout the world who have sought to dramatize injustice through self-sacrifice.

The Dyett hunger strikers led a silent march to President Obama’s Chicago home followed by a vigil. Credit: Bob Simpson

What makes this struggle especially inspiring is that not only is the community opposing unjust treatment, it is working to effect an alternative that is the product of grassroots deliberations about the kind of school and the kind of education their community’s children deserve. We also note that at a time when the world urgently needs to abandon the use of fossil fuels, the revitalization of Dyett school that parents and the community is fighting for includes a commitment to green technology.

This struggle is about much more than the 12 parents and community leaders in Bronzeville. It is about the kind of schools we want our children to attend. And it is a fight for democracy: that the future of public education should be in the hands of the public — not controlled by wealthy corporations and their foundations.

The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett offers the following open letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

September 16, 2015
Secretary Arne Duncan
US Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Sec. Duncan:

We call on you to act swiftly to avert the further harm that can befall the 12 parents and community leaders from Bronzeville and allies from communities across Chicago who have been on a hunger strike for 31 days.

The fight for Dyett has raged since CPS decided to convert a highly-successful middle school to a high school over a 3-month period in 1999. Horrified by the inability of the first graduating senior class in 2003 to experience college prep or advanced placement classes or a full-time librarian; community members began to invest in the school through the local school council to infuse critical programs and neighborhood partnerships into the building. The fruits of that labor yielded the highest increase in students attending post-secondary institutions in 2008, and the highest decrease in out-of-school suspensions and arrests in 2009. Despite steady significant gains, the Mayoral-appointed Board of Education members voted to phase-out the school in 2012; and the mass erosion of investment to prepare those students for success.

Galvanized by this injustice and emboldened by their record of success, parents and concerned residents began to work with educational experts within Chicago and around the country to develop an academic plan based on the community wishes. Through a series of focus groups, town hall meetings, and extensive consultation with community and educational institutions, the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology academic plan was developed. Some of the same experts who have developed Level 1 high schools in Chicago led the design team that created this plan in direct consultation with the community over a 4-year period. Neither of the competing proposals for Dyett come close to this level of community engagement or expertise. Bronzeville has spoken. We have engaged over 3000 Bronzeville residents who see the need for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

One of the challenges facing African American parents and students in Chicago is the lack of response and accountability from elected and appointed officials. Affluent neighborhoods receive selective enrollment and well-resourced schools. However, communities comprised of predominantly low-income and working families have to contend with under-resourced schools and privatization models that undermine the integrity of the community. We compel you to act on behalf of the residents of Bronzeville who have been rendered voiceless in this process.

In Earnest,

The 12 Hunger Strikers for Dyett

Coalition to Revitalize Dyett: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, Blacks in Green, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Jazz Society, Chicago Teacher’s Union, Du Sable Museum of African American History, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Teachers for Social Justice, The Plant, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education


Originally published at www.tikkun.org on September 16, 2015.

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