Chicago officials to reopen high school after fiery protests

Image 1 of 2

CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago officials announced plans Thursday to open a new arts-focused school in a neighborhood school once slated for closure, but protesters who have disrupted budget meetings vowed to continue a hunger strike over perceived racial disparities and other issues in the city's education system.

Parents and activists have opposed the phased-out closure of Walter H. Dyett High School in the historically black Bronzeville neighborhood for years. The nation's third-largest school district cited poor performance and declining enrollment in the decision, but officials later said they'd consider proposals to reopen. 

One group, pushing for a community partnered green technology school, ratcheted up opposition last month with a hunger strike that's attracted solidarity from the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The 12 protesters -- who stick to water, juice and broth -- have cited racial disparities in Chicago Public Schools as a prime motivator and said Thursday they'd continue doing without food until their proposal gets better reception. Protests at a Wednesday evening budget were so intense that Emanuel was escorted from the room.

Schools CEO Forrest Claypool made the new school announcement hours before another of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's budget hearings, saying the school and planned lab will serve the neighborhood.

"Working with community partners," Claypool said in a statement, "we arrived at a solution that meets multiple needs: Creating an open enrollment neighborhood high school, producing an enrollment stream that can weather population changes, filling the critical demand for an arts high school on the south side and working with education leaders to create a technology hub."

The move drew some praise, including from U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Chicago Democrat who largely called it a win for the strikers.

But the activists immediately said they didn't buy it.

Parent and hunger striker Jeanette Taylor-Ramann called it "baloney" saying CPS officials didn't give their proposal, which she said had wide community buy-in, a fair shot. She said several on the strike have been hospitalized and though she's lost 30 pounds and a doctor has told her to eat, she plans to continue. The protesters have recently added vitamins and protein drinks.

"I'm not satisfied and we're going to continue the hunger strike," she said. "This is their way of pushing us out of our own community."

Plans to close Dyett were first announced in late 2011 and preceded a tumultuous time for the cash-strapped district. In 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years. The following year, Emanuel pushed to close dozens of neighborhood schools.

Emanuel called the budget meetings for community feedback on a proposed spending plan that faces a potential shortfall of over $750 million. Emanuel's office didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday.