A dozen parents and activists in Chicago entered their 10th day of a hunger strike Wednesday, part of a fight with city officials over the fate of a high school in their South Side neighborhood.
So far, two hunger strikers have been sent to the hospital this week and one of the organizers had a dizzy spell Wednesday, but the protesters say they will keep going without food.
“This is really about the privatization of education, it’s about having sustainable community schools in every neighborhood,” said Monique Smith, 32, a resident who has lost seven pounds since she stopped eating Aug. 17. “This is a much larger struggle.”
Walter H. Dyett High School was closed by Chicago Public Schools in June after years of poor performance and dwindling enrollment. Last year, the senior class had 13 students.
But after protests by the community, the Chicago Public Schools said it would consider proposals from private organizations to operate the school on behalf of the district for a fee.
Community organizers say they want to keep the school publicly operated, and have proposed that Dyett be reopened as a “leadership and green technology school.” They want to develop a science-based curriculum that would take advantage of the school’s location near a park. The group also wants to renovate the building into a LEED certified green facility.
Chicago Public Schools officials were supposed to make a decision about the school’s fate last month but they postponed action and said they would hold a hearing on the competing plans Sept. 15.
That’s unacceptable to activists, who say they want the school system to make a decision about the school.
“We’ve had plenty of community hearings — we want the decision,” said Smith, who teaches history in a Chicago public middle school. “There is no other meeting we care to have. What is the hold up? They’ve had our proposal for more than a couple of months. That’s the reason for the hunger strike. We want to bring attention to this constant postponement, this constant sabotage.”
A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools could not be reached for comment. The school system closed nearly 50 schools in 2013, displacing more than 12,000 students.
It is unclear how long the strikers will keep up their action. They spend the days camped out in front of Dyett and then the evenings a few blocks away at the headquarters of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the nonprofit formed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, joined state and city union leaders at a rally in Chicago in support of the hunger strikers.
Activists in other communities around the country have been participating in a one-day fast in support of the Dyett strikers. Hundreds in different cities fasted Tuesday, according to the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which organized the effort. Many sent photos of themselves on Twitter, with messages of support for the strikers in Chicago.
Angela Walker, a campaign coordinator for the labor-backed Wisconsin Jobs Now in Milwaukee, was going without food Wednesday, the only one in her office to skip meals.
“We’re fighting the same fight against gentrification and privatization of our schools,” Walker said. “Dyett’s fight is our fight.”