Education activists celebrated the 34-day Dyett hunger strike during a rally at the Thompson Center Tuesday evening and vowed to press candidates on the issue of an elected Chicago school board during the 2016 state legislative elections.
The rally, attended by approximately 150 people, comes over a week after about a dozen Chicago parents and education advocates ended their hunger strike to keep Bronzeville's Dyett High School open. Dyett closed in June after being slated for phaseout in 2012.
"I'm really proud of the Dyett hunger strikers. They stood up for what they believed in," Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza told Progress Illinois at the rally. "They won. They kept their school open."
Still, Sadlowski Garza said it was unfortunate that parents had to put their health and lives at risk to improve education in their community.
"No one should have to starve or fight for a fully-funded education, not in the world we live in now," she said. "Kids, regardless where you live or the color of your skin, everyone should get an equal education."
The hunger strikers went without solid food for over a month in an effort to advance a community-developed plan to convert Dyett into a district-operated neighborhood high school focused on global leadership and green technology.
Though the hunger strikers did not secure the global leadership and green technology academy they were seeking, their protest resulted in the school district announcing plans to reopen Dyett next school year as a neighborhood arts high school with an "innovation technology lab."
Hunger striker Jitu Brown said the protesters are happy that Dyett will not become a contract or charter school.
"From the very beginning we knew that our ceiling was global leadership and green technology, but [a] victory would be to get a neighborhood school, so we won," he told Progress Illinois. "What we have to do now is make sure that CPS does what they said and does right by our children."
Here's more from Brown and Sadlowski Garza:
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School -- whose members developed the global leadership and green technology plan and were involved in the hunger strike -- will be "deeply engaged" in making the new Dyett the best it can be, Brown added.
"If it's an arts school, it needs to be an arts school that works," he stressed. "So there needs to be vertical curriculum alignment with the elementary schools ... If you just pop up this school and say it's an arts school, and nobody's ever done graphic design, nobody's ever done studio art, nobody's ever done photography, then what you will have is a school that people won't choose."
The coalition also plans to continue its advocacy around bringing global leadership and green technology courses to Dyett.
"We are far from giving up on the global leadership and green technology component," Brown said. "We will win it, but the route to get there may be a little different."
Those at Tuesday's rally argued that the hunger strike shows why Chicago needs an elected, rather than the current mayor-appointed, school board.
"We must have an elected school board, because the fact that in 2015 parents felt so voiceless that we starved ourselves ... it just shows a crisis in leadership that we have," Brown said. "We don't have people that represent the interest of working and low-income families."
The Chicago Board of Education is the only non-elected school board in Illinois, and the state legislature -- which approved the 1995 law that gave Chicago's mayor full authority over the school district and board appointments -- must ultimately change the rules.
"I think we're in a time right now that an elected school board is more important than ever," Sadlowski Garza said. "Our appointed school board has proved time and time again that they don't know what's best for our kids or our communities."
State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) also attended the rally and spoke in support of an elected Chicago school board. Guzzardi is a co-sponsor of pending state legislation that would allow for Chicago school board members to be elected. The bill is HB 4268.
Going forward, Brown said the activists plan to hold community forums in different Chicago neighborhoods to educate residents about the elected school board campaign. Brown noted that they will also be mobilizing around the issue in Springfield.
In acknowledging that Gov. Bruce Rauner has stated his opposition to elected Chicago school board proposals, Brown said education organizers will work to secure veto-proof majorities for such legislation.
"We will make it an election issue for the state representatives that want to get elected in March and then in the November elections," Brown warned.