Chicago residents sit-in to prevent Dyett High School closure, United States, 2013-14

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Timing
Time Period:  
1 November
2013
to
23 October
2014
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Chicago, Illinois
Goals: 
Prevent closure of Dyett High School and get district to provide more services to current students
 

In 2012, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted to “phase-out” Walter Dyett High School, the only open-enrollment high school in the African-American south side neighborhood of Bronzeville, due to poor academic performance. Opponents of the closing said that CPS and Mayor Emanuel had caused this poor performance by cutting Dyett’s funding. The decision to shut the school came amidst a series of closures throughout the CPS system that disproportionately affected poor, black neighborhoods. In the largest mass school closing in American history, the district closed 150 schools between 2001 and 2013, including 49 during the summer of 2013, affecting 30,000 students throughout the city. Eighty-eight percent of the students affected were black, and 94% came from low-income families. The city opened charter schools to replace many of the closed schools.

After the school district officially announced a closure date for Dyett of July 1, 2015, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett formed in November 2013. Residents blamed lack of funding for the poor performance. In response to what they called a "dramatically deteriorated" situation at the school, several Dyett students filed a formal Title VI Civil Rights Act complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights on 12 November. They argued, “the Board has deprived our school of resources and undermined numerous promising attempts by our community to improve the school. What was the board's response when, as late as 2008, we had the largest increase in students going to college in all of Chicago Public Schools? What about in 2009 when we had the largest decrease in student arrests and suspensions? Disregard and disinvestment."

On report card pick-up day later in November, 300 parents from Dyett's feeder elementary and middle schools signed a petition in support of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s proposal for the Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. As resident and education activist, Jitu Brown described, "if Dyett closes then this neighborhood will no longer have any open enrollment neighborhood schools. We believe that the needs of children, regardless of their income bracket, should be high priorities for the school system, and it's not.”

Following the phase-out decision by CPS, many students took the opportunity to transfer to another school outside the neighborhood, and the middle schools stopped sending students to Dyett. CPS allowed students graduating in the class of 2015 or earlier to remain, only 12 from the class of 2015 chose to enroll at Dyett for the 2014-15 school year. As the student body declined, the school stopped providing services, such as college counseling, art, physical education, and sports, and students had to take mostly online classes.

After Alderman Will Burns and CPS refused to prevent the closing, parents began a three day camp-out outside Alderman Burns’ office on 16 June 2014, demanding a public hearing about keeping the school open. CPS told the protesters that they had no plans to change their decision.

After Burns and CPS continued to ignore the parent’s demands, 50 residents began a sit-in at City Hall on 23 September demanding that Dyett remain open and that current seniors have access to extracurriculars, college counseling, and other services taken away from the school amidst the phaseout. They held a rally in the evening with current Dyett students speaking about their experiences at the school. At 6:00 p.m., police ordered them to leave, but 11 activists remained in the lobby, chained together around a statue of George Washington and refused to leave until the city met their demands. Police arrested all 11, and they were released early the next morning.

The next day, the mayor’s office announced that CPS would provide Dyett students with after-school tutoring, college tours, and college form assistance, and senior year events, such as a prom and luncheons.

On 23 October, after residents delivered 3,000 petition signatures, CPS reversed their decision, announcing that, though Dyett would not be in operation during the 2015-16 school year, the closure would not be permanent, and that it would reopen the school in the fall of 2016. They announced that they would consider proposals for a new school including residents’ “Dyett Green Technology and Global Leadership High School,” an open enrollment school. Little Black Pearl, a non-profit arts organization proposed a contract school at the site. Local residents continued to fight for approval of their proposal instead of Little Black Pearl’s proposal, saying that another contract school would be bad for the community and provide subpar educational services for students.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Works Cited

FitzPatrick, Lauren. 2015. “Two Contenders Want to Create a New Dyett High School.” Chicago sun Times. Retrieved April 24, 2015 (http://chicago.suntimes.com/education/7/71/504126/dyett-high-school-two-proposals-submitted).

Fortino, Ellyn. 2013. “Progress Illinois.” Chicago Education Activists Launch Coalition To Revitalize Bronzeville's Dyett High School. Retrieved April 24, 2015 (http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2013/11/22/chicago-education-activists-launch-coalition-revitalize-bronzevilles-d).

Fortino, Ellyn. 2014. “Chicago Education Activists Warn Of More 'Civil Disobedience' Over Dyett High School.” Progress Illinois. Retrieved April 24, 2015 (http://progressillinois.com/quick-hits/content/2014/10/29/chicago-education-activists-warn-more-civil-disobedience-over-dyett).

Lee, Trymaine. 2013. “Amid Mass School Closings, a Slow Death for Some Chicago Schools.” NBC Chicago. Retrieved April 24, 2015 (http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/dont-call-it-school-choice).

Lutz, B. J. and Susan Carlson. 2014. “Tent City Goes Up To Protest School Closure.” NBC Chicago. Retrieved April 24, 2015 (http://www.nbcchicago.com/blogs/ward-room/chicago-tent-city-protest-school-closure-263266261.html).

NBC Chicago Staff. 2014. “Chicago High School Has 12 Students Enrolled.” NBC Chicago. Retrieved April 24, 2015 (http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/chicago-dyett-high-school-twelve-students-273748731.html).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Stephen O'Hanlon, 04/24/2015