About a dozen Chicago education activists pitched a makeshift campsite outside of Ald. Will Burns' (4th) South Side office Monday morning in protest of the school district's plan to close Walter H. Dyett High School at the end of the 2014-2015 school year.
Back in 2012, the Chicago Board of Education voted to phaseout and close the Bronzeville neighborhood high school, located in Burns' 4th Ward, due to poor academic performance. Dyett is scheduled to close completely in 2015 after its last senior class graduates.
Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), are upset with Burns because the alderman does not support their specific proposal to keep Dyett open beyond 2015 and transition it into a open-enrollment "global leadership and green technology" neighborhood high school.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School has collected more than 700 signatures in support of its proposal to offer a global leadership and green technology curriculum at Dyett, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness.
For months now, the coalition has been urging school officials and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to back its academic blueprint, which was developed with community members and academics over a two-year period. The group formally presented its plan to the Chicago Board of Education at its monthly meeting in April.
Activists are now turning their attention to Burns because they want him to "do his job" and hold a public hearing about the future of Dyett within 30 days, Jitu Brown with KOCO said this morning outside of Burns' office, 435 E 35th St.
"It's not our job to develop an academic plan, but in absence of a vision, we provided you one," Brown said. "You should actually be thanking us because we did what you refused to do, which is to convene people to say what do you want your schools to look like?"
Here's more on issue from Brown as well as Minnie Jefferson, a North Kenwood resident and member of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett:
Outside of Burns' office this morning, the group set up chairs on the sidewalk with posters taped on them reading, "Alderman Burns = Unaccountable" and "Race And Income Should Not Dictate School Options." Coalition members say they will remain outside of the alderman's office throughout today and Tuesday, though they may stay longer.
"We are going to stay out here as long as we decide to," Brown said.
Organizers set up tents on the sidewalk earlier this morning, but Chicago police later ordered that they be taken down, Brown said. Organizers, who have a stockpile of food and water on site, plan to sleep inside their cars tonight if police do not allow tents on the sidewalk this evening, Brown added.
The protestors are upset about Dyett's pending closure because it means Bronzeville will no longer have an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school that is not a contracted, charter or Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) turnaround school.
"The students, the teachers and the community (came) together to come up with a global leadership and green technology school, building off the strengths of Dyett," stressed Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, an ally of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School. "And instead of building off of that, (city and school officials are) allowing the school to close. In Bronzeville, all our (high schools) are selective enrollment or privatized. And this should not be happening."
Activists also argue that Dyett has not received adequate resources from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). They have repeatedly pointed out that the high school does not have advanced placement classes. Additionally, students meet their physical education requirement by taking an online course. Art courses are also taken online.
A spokesperson for CPS was not immediately available for comment. We will update the story with any comments that come in past the publishing deadline. School district officials, however, have stated that there are currently no plans to keep Dyett open beyond 2015.
CPS CEO Barbara "Byrd-Bennett and CPS board members continue to receive proposals about the future of Dyett High School and are always interested to hear feedback from the community on how we can collaborate to provide quality education options to our students," school district spokesman Joel Hood said in a statement to Progress Illinois last week. "CPS has met with [the] Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, including two weeks ago when Board President David Vitale listened to their proposal for Dyett High School. There are currently no plans to change Dyett’s scheduled closure, which will go in effect after next school year."
Jay Travis, who unsuccessfully ran against incumbent State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) in the state's 26th district Democratic primary race earlier this year, stood in solidarity with the education activists outside of Burns' office today. Travis, KOCO's former executive director, called Dyett's planned closure "unacceptable."
"We are very much disenchanted and disappointed with the lack of leadership from Ald. Burns, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools," she said. "They have not ensured that young people in Bronzeville have an equitable opportunity to public education right in their neighborhoods. This is a situation in which the community has done its due diligence, and I would say has even gone far beyond its responsibility. Often parents, community folks and youth are scapegoated as not caring about education. When CPS, the mayor and our local officials like Will Burns took no action on Dyett, these folks engaged scholars and academics and came up with a viable plan that's rooted in a solid academic program. Why is it that we cannot get action from our elected officials?"
Burns, who opposed the Chicago Board of Education's decision to phaseout and close Dyett, told Progress Illinois that he has not endorsed the coalition's academic plan because he believes its members have not gathered enough feedback from the larger community and other local organizations, such as the Bronzeville Community Action Council (CAC), which works with CPS. The South Side alderman, however, does agree with the coalition's assertion that Dyett should remain a high-quality, open-enrollment neighborhood high school that is neither a charter school nor an alternative school.
Brown, however, noted that the coalition presented the group's vision for Dyett to the Bronzeville CAC back in 2011. The coalition also shared their developed plan with the CAC more than a week ago, Brown said.
"The community is bigger than the Bronzeville CAC," Brown said. "What we did is we engaged the people directly impacted ... and we even met with the Hyde Park CAC. [The question that] I would like to raise is when has Chicago Public Schools even listened to the CAC anyway?"
"The question I ask ... what has (Burns) done? Who has he engaged about Dyett," Brown added
On Monday, Burns said he has met with Chicago Board of Education members and "other government officials to make the case to keep Dyett open." Regarding the Bronzeville CAC, Burns said presentation of a plan "is not the same as active engagement or participation."
Meanwhile, the alderman said plans are in the works for a July public community meeting about the future of Dyett. More specifics about the meeting will be announced at a later date, he said. Public comments from the July community gathering will submitted to the school board in the form of a report drafted by a meeting facilitator, Burns said.
Overall, the alderman said the protest outside of his office came as a shock.
"Im a little bit surprised, quite frankly, that they're having a protest in front of my office when I agree with them that the school should be kept open," he said.
Burns also stressed that neither he nor anyone in his office called the police in response to the protesters in front of his office, as some coalition members had suggested to reporters.
In upcoming weeks, Brown said the coalition and its allies do not plan to back down from their fight to save Dyett from closing. They are planing a series of actions this summer in an effort to keep Dyett open, but declined to provide more specifics.
"You can expect to see peaceful disruption of the status quo," Brown said.
UPDATE 1 (5:36 p.m.): CPS spokesman Joel Hood responded to Progress Illinois' request for comment on the tent city by the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School.
"CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett and CPS Board Members continue to receive proposals about the future of Dyett High School and they are interested to learn what the community thinks," said Hood. "While there are currently no plans in place following next year's scheduled closure, CPS is committed to working with the community to ensure that students in the North Kenwood and Oakland communities continue to have access to quality education options that will prepare them for success in college, career and in life."