More than 50 Chicago education activists escalated their fight late Tuesday afternoon to save Bronzeville's Walter H. Dyett High School from closing at the end of this academic year.
Protesters chained themselves together and staged a sit-in outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on the fifth floor of City Hall to demand equity for the 13 remaining seniors at Dyett.
The Chicago Board of Education voted to phase out Dyett in 2012 due to poor academic performance, and the school is slated to close completely in 2015 after its last senior class graduates.
The activists with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, a group spearheaded by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), also urged the Emanuel administration to endorse their community-driven blueprint to keep Dyett open beyond 2015 and offer global leadership and green technology classes at the school, along with other programs involving agricultural sciences and cultural awareness. Community members have been developing the education plan for several years and formally presented it to the school district at the Chicago Board of Education's monthly meeting in April.
The activists protested at City Hall for close to two hours before police ordered them to leave shortly after 6 p.m., because the building was closing. Police said those who did not move, including members of the media, would face arrest. Most of the activists followed orders and left. But 11 activists, who had chained themselves together around a statue of George Washington, refused to leave.
Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Jose Estrada could not confirm this morning whether police made any arrests or issued citations in connection with the protest. He said his office has not yet been made aware of any arrests, but is "looking into it."
The mayor's press office this morning deferred questions about the protest to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) communications department. A CPS spokesperson has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The protesters 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 turnaround school.
Jitu Brown with KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School was a part of the group of activists that chained themselves together. He called it a "sad commentary on the state of politics in this city and on leadership in this city" that community members have been "driven to these measures."
"We want people to know that we did not start at this place," he said at the protest. "We have been begging the city of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools to partner with us for three years … We say, 'Thank you, Mr. Mayor, thank you,' for pushing us to this point."
"At the end of the day, what they should have done is looked at this as an opportunity," Brown added. "We put this [plan for a global leadership and green technology school] in your lap."
Activists allege that the school district has neglected Dyett during its phase out, saying that resources have been cut at the South Side school to the point where students are forced to take classes such as health, environmental science and art appreciation online.
"We spend basically four hours a day on the computer," said Chrisean Criddell, one of the 13 seniors who remain at Dyett.
Criddell said there are just three classroom teachers at Dyett, and the school has no after school programs, including sports, or ACT prep classes.
"In 2012, CPS promised that our school would not be neglected during the phase out," he said, adding that the district's promise "has been shattered."
"There is a serious lack of resources in the school and a serious lack of action taken to get them," Criddell stressed. "CPS and the administrators of our school have spent more time encouraging our classmates to leave the school instead of bringing resources to the school."
Here's more from Criddell, Brown and scenes of the protest:
"It's really interesting that when it comes to young people in communities like this, we always rationalize underserving them," Brown said. "There's always some reason why we won't give them what we give the children that go to Lake View [High School]."
"You cannot rationalize the underserving of children because you don't value them. That's what we're calling them out on," he added. "These babies aren't valued by Chicago Public Schools ... The mistake that they made is they thought that there weren't any organized parents or young people in Bronzeville."
Dyett students at the sit-in demanded that all classes at the school have an in-person instructor and that students who were "coerced to leave" Dyett be given an opportunity to return. They also called for after school tutoring; year-long ACT prep courses; a "new supportive principal"; internship and part-time employment opportunities; college trips and career day activities; quality student activities such as prom and sports teams; off-campus lunch; and other student supports including counseling.
"We did not create this problem," said Dyett senior Willie Doles. "We should not be victimized or inconvenienced because CPS wants to shut our school down early. We deserve better than this. We will stand up for it."
Check back with Progress Illinois for more updates on this story.
UPDATE 1 (12:25 p.m.): Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School said in a news release that 11 education activists were arrested at City Hall last night. He said Dyett students have reportedly won concessions from the mayor's office, but stressed that "the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School will not stop until we have a signed agreement from the Mayor, the Board of Education and [CPS CEO] Barbara Byrd-Bennett indicating their full support for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School."
“CPS has not been held accountable for the sabotage of Dyett, and if it closes, we won’t have a neighborhood high school in this area," Irene Robinson, one of the arrested activists, said in a statement. "We are prepared to go to jail in larger numbers again, to get justice for our children. The ball is in the Mayor’s court. The Mayor’s staff made concessions last night that should never have been an issue. We appreciate this first step, but we have been ignored, disrespected and our children have been underserved for the last 3 years.”
UPDATE 2 (12:50 p.m.): In an interview with Progress Illinois, Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School said the 11 activists were charged with trespassing at about 11 p.m. on Tuesday. Police took the 11 individuals to the 1st District station at 1718 S. State St., according to Brown. The arrested activists were released between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Wednesday, he said, adding that their court date is October 30.
Brown said representatives from the mayor's office told the group last night that Dyett students will receive a gym teacher next week, and ACT prep classes will be offered at the school, among other concessions.