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Concerned Chicago Residents Protest Mayor’s Closing of Neighborhood Schools With Weeks of Hunger Strike

Hunger strikers at Dyett High School at the start of a press conference. (Twitter)

Hunger strikers at Dyett High School at the start of a press conference. (Twitter)

A group of Chicago residents are on hunger strike to save a local school. The Huffington Post reported 12 Chicago residents have gone without food since Aug. 17 to protest the closure of Dyett High School.

The protesters actions may have delayed the school’s closure. The Chicago school board is deliberating over plans to reorganize the school. The protesters want the school to be turned over to local control and focus on science.

Reportedly, the hunger strike had already required two protesters, Jeanette Taylor-Ramann and Irene Robinson, to be hospitalized. Taylor-Ramann recently collapsed after addressing the school board. Medical professionals have urged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take action on the issue, which they see as a life-threatening emergency.

“This is truly an emergency,” said Dr. Linda Rae Murray, retired former chief medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, as she delivered a letter Thursday signed by 17 local doctors and nurses to Emanuel’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall.

The letter also stated: “We consider the current situation to be a deepening health emergency in our city. It is one you (Emanuel) can abate by reaching out to the strikers, entertaining their grievances and accepting their proposal.”

The hunger strike is the latest round in an ongoing battle between Emanuel and Black residents upset at his decision to close several local schools. HuffPost said that in 2013, Emanuel closed 49 under-performing Chicago schools. The move angered local residents, who were upset their children would have to attend far-away schools which often required them to travel through gang-infested neighborhoods.

Emanuel said there is a nearby school which can serve children who used to attend Dyett High School.

“Within about a mile of the school is King College Prep,” said Emanuel during a Thursday news conference according to DNAinfo. “So there’s a lot of high schools in that area. How do you talk about another one when even some of the high schools within the three-mile radius are not at capacity yet? ”

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson echoed Emanuel’s comments.

“We are mindful of the declining population in the area, which is losing students and already has 12 high schools within a 3-mile radius,” Jackson said. “We respect the community’s passion for Chicago’s children, and we will make the best possible decision to give all the children of the city a good education.”

However, the protester are digging in their heels and are refusing to budge on the school fight. One protester Jitu Brown accused the district of refusing to work with the community. He added the district should be happy parents were concerned enough to fight for the local school system.

“What school district in their right mind would demonize and run away from parents that are activated to improve their schools?” said Brown. “They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for Black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true.”

The hunger strikers have attracted local support. Rev. Robert Jones, a local minister, decided to join the protesters, even though he doesn’t have children in the district.

“I pastor people in this community and interact with people in the community and what’s happening to them is wrong,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the nation’s second largest teachers union, has also joined the protesters.

“These hunger strikers are pursuing justice — not for themselves, but for our children,” said Weingarten in an interview with The Chicago Sun-Times. “And they’re not simply saying to the mayor or the school board ‘Do something.’ They have a plan that they have worked on. It is a fantastic plan. . . . This is a community that’s saying ‘We want to take responsibility.’”

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