Month-Long Hunger Strike to Save Chicago’s Dyett Ends with Mixed Success


A hunger strike meant to convince Chicago Public Schools to reopen the former Dyett High School on Chicago’s Southeast Side has ended, according to Juan Perez, Jr., reporting for the Chicago Tribune. The protesters went weeks without solid food, but in the end, felt they were putting their health at risk as they advocated for the re-opening of Dyett.

Jeanette Taylor-Ramann, a member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, who helped lead the 34-day hunger strike, appeared before the school board and then collapsed inside the district’s headquarters.

The strike did get CPS administrators to reopen the school which had been closed after years of declining enrollment and poor academic performance. But some of the protesters’ demands were not addressed, such as the request that the school be reopened with a curriculum based on green technology and global leadership. Because of this, the strike continued until this last weekend.

The lack of cooperation on the part of CPS led the strikers to state that the end of protest did not feel victorious. Negotiations continue with CPS officials and Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark in order to continue the fight to make the school the green technology and global leadership academy that strikers want, along with allowing those involved in the strike to assist in the hiring of the principal of the school.

The strikers and other supporters met with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is a former Chicago Public Schools head, during the weeks-long hunger strike. The protest ended with CPS announcing that it would open the school next fall as an “open enrollment, arts-focused neighborhood high school.” The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School was not entirely appeased, however.

“We hope that they will recognize that this is a win for everybody,” district CEO Forrest Claypool said when the school district unveiled its plans. “It may not be the green technology global leadership academy that they supported and that they were going to run, but it is, I think, something that really represents the will of the community.”

As the protesters see it, they won several victories, one of which was the CPS’ commitment to reopen Dyett and not to privatize the school. Now, CPS is forming two advisory committees to provide guidance on the arts curriculum and  technology center projected for the new Dyett, according to Progress Illinois.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to develop a modern, high-quality high school at Dyett, and these industry leaders will help us ensure that vision is realized,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a news release. “They bring a wealth of experience and wisdom crucial to the development of this progressive school and technology center on the South Side.”

The hunger strike began when 12 parents and other school activists announced that neighborhood schools were being destroyed, especially in African-American neighborhoods. They added that they were against the “privatization of public education.” At one of the group’s protest venues, a town hall budget meeting, their protests forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel off the stage, writes Yolanda Perdomo of WBEZ-Chicago Public Media.

The problem began to grow when CPS turned King High School into a test-in school. That is when Dyett Middle School became a default attendance-area high school, which, say activists, was never properly funded. In 2012, the school board voted to phase Dyett out with the last 13 students graduating in June of this year.

Dyett High School is named for Walter Dyett, the well-known Chicago public schools music director who taught high school music to Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Dinah Washington, and Nat “King” Cole.