Teresa Yanec has spent the past 15 days camped in a tent on a weedy, debris-strewn lot in Little Village, a largely industrial neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago that is home mostly to Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. Yanec and about 16 other area residents are on a hunger strike to prod the Board of Education to build a high school on the lot.

In January 1998, the school board agreed to build three high schools in 2000. Last year, two magnet high schools were built in upper-income neighborhoods on the city's North Side. Students with the highest test scores citywide are drawn to the two schools, North Side College Preparatory High School and Walter Payton High School.

The hunger strikers say the city is practicing discrimination by building the magnet schools, which serve 800 students each, in largely white, affluent areas while neglecting to build a badly needed school in Little Village. David G. Farragut High School, which serves Little Village, has a stated capacity of 2,626 students, with 2,187 enrolled. But 4,046 students of high school age live in the area.

"Students have to get up at 5 in the morning in the cold to take two buses to a school in another part of the city," said Yanec, 32, who attended Farragut. "They say there's more room at Farragut, but it's already overcrowded. You can't learn with 35 kids in a classroom. They don't see our kids as deserving of good secondary education."

In the summer of 1998, the city bought the former cooking oil factory site where the protesters have erected their tents. It cleared the land and conducted environmental tests.

"They went through with buying it and preparing the land, and then all of a sudden in 1999, everything stopped," said Yanec, who works in a cookie factory and has four children. "We kept saying, 'What is going on with our school?' All we got from them was silence."

A 1998 budget report shows an allocation of $5 million in 1999 and $25 million in 2000 for the new school. Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Paul Vallas said that even though it is listed in the budget, the money for the school has never been allocated by the state.

Ricardo Munoz, the alderman for the area, said he believes the school district had the money but used it to construct the magnet schools in the North Side or elsewhere.

"We want to know where that money went," Munoz said. "We think this is discriminatory."

On Friday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sought an investigation of the funding by the Justice Department's civil rights division, the assistant U.S. attorney and the Education Department.

Vallas scoffed at the claims of discrimination, noting that of the $2.6 billion spent on school construction in the past six years, 86 percent of the students who have benefited are minorities and two-thirds of those are Hispanic. He also said that five grammar schools have recently been built in the Little Village neighborhood, and extensions are being built to several nearby high schools.

"Munoz is just using a school to help in his bid for reelection," Vallas said.

In addition to consuming only juice and water in the encampment, Yanec and the other protesters, who range from teenagers to elderly residents, have disrupted several recent public events. At a Board of Education meeting last Wednesday, there were shouting matches and physical confrontations between security guards and student and parent protesters.

The day after the meeting, board president Gery Chico, who had often clashed with Vallas, resigned, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family and on his law practice.

Hunger striker Carolina Gaete, 29, said she thinks Chico's resignation was related to publicity about the Little Village situation. She is confident the board will agree to build the school soon.

"It is in their best interest to do so," she said. "This is a working-class, immigrant community where people don't usually want to get involved in things like this. This is a patient community. But now our patience has worn out."

Protesters from the Little Village area of South Side Chicago gather at City Hall to demand a new high school in their area. A hunger strike in Little Village is now in its third week.