The Fight for Dyett, a grassroots campaign to revitalize and save Walter H. Dyett High School on the south side of Chicago, ended a 34-day hunger strike on September 19.
At least twelve people had participated in the hunger strike in order to save the public school from being closed down and privatized. When Chicago Public Schools responded to pressure and announced it would stay open but under a revitalization plan the Fight for Dyett opposed, the hunger strikers did not back down. They kept up their hunger strike because CPS had kept them out of the process.
But, in recent days, one of the hunger strikers was feeling very ill. Rather than put that hunger striker in a position where they felt weak for not being able to continue hunger striking, everyone agreed to bring the hunger strike to an end. The campaign also planned a major announcement for September 21, which would outline the next phase of their struggle.
Anna Jones, a single mother and a leading organizer in the Fight for Dyett High School, joined the show to talk about the struggle to save a neighborhood school on the south side of Chicago and why she was part of a hunger strike, which gained national attention. Jones described what this fight means to her, why people have fought to save the school, and how this is a critical campaign against not only the privatization of public schools but also separate but equal schooling in the city.
During the discussion, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the open expressions of fascism at the GOP debate, Ahmed Mohamed, and the latest development in Guantanamo Bay prisoner Tariq Ba Odah’s case.
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Below is a full transcript of the interview with some parts edited for clarity:
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: What is Dyett High School and why have you been part of a struggle to save the school?
ANNA JONES: Dyett High School is the last open enrollment high school in Washington Park in the Bronzeville neighborhood, and the community has been fighting for Walter H. Dyett High School to keep it open since 2009. And they’ve been getting a lot of feedback and response from the mayor and the alderman and not getting much support from our political offices with regard to keeping Walter H. Dyett open.
The school was saved last year from being closed, and now this year it is just saved due to the hunger strike from being privatized. So, we don’t want anymore privatized schools or charter schools in our community. We want public schools to be open to our children, and we want equal access to our schools.
GOSZTOLA: You have children. One of your children you’re concerned will be significantly impacted by this closure. Is that correct?
JONES: Yes, that’s correct. My daughter travels 11 miles out of the district to attend social justice high school. That’s become depressing to her. She’s noticing gangs. She’s not used to public transportation. This is something that she’s been forced to do because we don’t have an open enrollment high school with quality education in the Bronzeville community. Which is why it is so important to go on a hunger strike, to make these issues vocal, and to get our voices heard and to make other people aware of how our education system is dying in Bronzeville.
Public education, that is.
GOSZTOLA: This is part of a disturbing trend that has happened in Chicago. It’s particularly under this mayor, Rahm Emanuel, there have been schools closed. And so, when you say open enrollment you are talking about how your neighborhood school is not open to all the children that live in that neighborhood?
JONES: That’s correct. We have privately owned and selective enrollment schools that we can’t get in.
Rahm Emanuel stated that there are ten schools within three-mile radius of Dyett High schools. There are ten high schools that our children attend, and that’s not true. And what we want the people to know is there is a lot of false media. There’s a lot of false facts, and people may think that we have schools to go to. We don’t.
King High School was one of the schools that Rahm Emanuel mentioned, though that’s a selective enrollment high school. And, if my daughter doesn’t test well, she couldn’t get into that school, which is what happened to her. My daughter sat in [inaudible] School without a reading teacher for eight months. So, they sent security guards to sit in the classroom instead of providing them another teacher. They told us that they didn’t have it in their budget. And my question is: while you’re waiting to get your budget together, what happens to our children who are losing time of instruction who are planning to take the selective enrollment in the coming months?
So, my daughter didn’t get a chance to get into King High School, and other schools, such as Phillips, is a neighborhood school but it’s an AUSL school… [Academy for Urban School Leadership School, which is a school management organization consisting of 32 Chicago schools.]
… Dyett High School is so important to us because we want an open enrollment, public high school in our community, and we want to be able to go there without having to cross gang boundaries, and other things that negatively impact our children.
GOSZTOLA: At the end of August, there was talk about some proposals that CPS was going to consider and they approved one for Dyett. But the Fight for Dyett was not happy with how this unfolded. Will you talk about where things are at now with what CPS wants to do with Dyett?
JONES: Initially, CPS was going to close Dyett, in which the community vowed to keep it open and they fought to keep it open. So, then CPS has this plan where they tell people to provide a RFP, which is a request for proposal to say what they would like to use the building for.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School got together with the community. They got to together with educators. They got together with students and parents, and made it an effort to be one accord to what the children need in Bronzeville community.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett came up with a brilliant world-class plan, which is a global leadership and green technology. Keep in mind that the green technology is the fastest growth industry in the United States of America. So, our question to Rahm Emanuel is, why not the global leadership and green technology at Dyett High School where there’s a thriving pond, thriving wildlife, thriving farm, where children can enjoy themselves and appreciate the global leadership and green technology?
And when those request for proposals were issued to the mayor, one of those proposals was from the principal of Dyett High School, and he gave his proposal at the last minute, which was against the law and they accepted it anyway. Also, Little Black Pearl requested a proposal for an art school. Little Black Pearl is an under-performing school, and that is not to degrade Little Black Pearl but it’s just that the school is under-performing already. So, why would you give them another school when they can’t even support the one they have?
And so, the “Global Leadership and Green Technology” was the only plan that had an academic structure, was the only plan that involved the people of the community, and so we’ve been told by the congressmen and other people that Little Black Pearl and so we’re not getting fair justice when it comes down to the RFP process, which was initiated by CPS in the first place.
When they were supposed to have a hearing on it, they did not have a hearing on August 10. They did not advise anyone in the community, as far as the “Global Leadership and Green Technology” is concerned. They did not advise us whether they would have the meeting or not. They just decided not to have it. These are the things that we’ve been fighting for [inaudible].
We’ve given the mayor and CPS due diligence while our kids suffer. We’re tired of our kids suffering. We’re tired of our children feeling depressed and feeling like there’s no hope for them. Our children have a genius in them just as anybody else’s child. District 299 is one district so there should be one fund. Those funds should be appropriated evenly throughout our schools.
The parents in Lincoln Park and the schools up north—They just got a 22 million dollar annex at their school, and they even came to the board meeting and told the board we don’t need it. Give it to the south side. They still got that. They still got that 22 million dollars.
We don’t compare our schools to attack them. We compare them to show that our schools are separate and unequal. Because those children up north deserve a world-class education, but our children in Bronzeville deserve the same education and they’re not getting it. So, in 2015, our schools are still separate and unequal, which is against the law.
GOSZTOLA: Tell me what it has meant for you to be part of the Fight for Dyett and how you think Chicago has been able to come out and show support for the fight. What do you feel about it as it goes forward?
JONES: This fight has meant everything to me. This fight has shown me where I stand in this community. This fight has shown me how much parents and children are valued by politicians. This fight has shown me that great things can happen, that we need to unite and stand together and make them happen. This fight has shown me everyone’s eating the same soup, just from a different pot.
So, while we continue to be devalued in our community, we plan to press forward, and we’re not stopping the fight until we get the Global Leadership and Green Technology [plan] at Walter H. Dyett High school. There’s a list of negotiations that we’ve been trying to get into Walter H. Dyett, and we constantly are getting railroaded from our politicians, especially Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 4th Ward Alderman William Burns.