To the Editor
While Alderman Burns and I don’t agree on much, I do concur with one phrase in his recent letter to the editor; that phrase is “the facts are the facts.” The decision to close a school is both highly politicized and racialized, as school closings have had a disparate impact on African American and Latino students. If anyone has been ‘bullied or held hostage’ in this process, it has been the African American students that have endured disinvestment in their schools, and been displaced as a result of school closings and phase-outs. More importantly, research clearly shows that school closings and privatization have not improved educational outcomes for students that were most-impacted. The decision to re-open Dyett required consistent community pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his appointed school board and Ald. Burns. It occurred because both KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett were willing to challenge the mayor whenever we were aware that he set foot on Bronzeville’s soil. While I don’t want to diminish the input of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, this decision would not have happened without the sacrifice of the students, mothers, grandmothers, community leaders and organizations that participated in the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s process.
The facts that were critical to the decision to reopen Dyett, as well as additional facts regarding KOCO’s work at Dyett are as follow:
1) KOCO fought for improvements at Dyett even prior to developing the proposal that it recently submitted to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 2005, KOCO worked with students to win capital improvements, such as repairs to Dyett’s roof and a new air conditioning system. In 2009, KOCO began an in-depth planning process for Dyett and its feeder schools; engaging local school councils, parents and scholars. It is also important to note that KOCO also brought the nationally acclaimed VOYCE leadership development initiative to Dyett for 5 years absolutely free of charge to Dyett or its students (Note: KOCO’s former education organizer, Jitu Brown, joined Dyett’s LSC and served consistently from 2003-2013).
2) The decision to close Dyett was made in 2012 (the intention to close Dyett was announced in 2011). Ald. Burns did not attend the board of education meetings regarding Dyett’s closure (as at least three Aldermen that opposed school closings in their wards have done to express concern for their constituents); nor did he convene a meeting between the mayor and his constituents (as was requested by KOCO members in 2011) to discuss the impact of the potential loss of Dyett with 4th Ward constituents. Perhaps he wrote a letter after Jitu Brown, Karen Lewis and Jeanette Taylor-Ramann visited his office in 2011 to demand that he take action.
KOCO was public, forthright and clear about how the loss of Dyett would impact Bronzeville, and held a 3-day sit-in at the mayor’s office; during which Will Burns attempted to ignore several mothers and grandmothers when he walked pass them in front of the mayor’s office. He was not completely let off the hook during the sit in because a reverend who participated in the protest held his hand as she prayed for him to get the courage needed to stand up against the school closings in his ward.
Burns’ lack of definitive action regarding Dyett is in sharp contrast to his response to parents in Hyde Park when they complained of overcrowding at Kenwood High School (my alma mater). According to the Chicago Tribune (July 23, 2013), the alderman expeditiously convened the CEO of CPS and mayor Emanuel, and transferred the building that formerly housed Canter Middle School to Kenwood. Why did the alderman take definitive swift action on behalf of Hyde Parkers, but not low-income and working African American folks in Bronzeville? Did he convene the mayor, CPS and his constituents to discuss the closure of Dyett? All children deserve access to a quality education regardless of their race or income. Just as the young people at Kenwood deserved Ald. Burns, CPS and the mayor’s swift action, so did the students at Dyett. These students are equally deserving of action from their alderman. Just as separate and unequal education is unacceptable, so is separate and unequal political representation (Note: If Ald. Burns convened such a meeting with the mayor and CPS on behalf of Dyett, he chose not to publicize the meeting as he did in the case of Kenwood).
3) In 2012, Ald. Burns was well aware of the abuses suffered by Dyett students, and did nothing to end their suffering. Students were forced to take art and gym online, and were not offered advance placement courses. As a final demonstration of CPS’ lack of respect for Dyett students, they were forced to enter the building each day through the back door. KOCO held a press conference to address these issues, and invited Karen Lewis (CTU President and 4th Ward resident). While Ald. Burns was present at the press conference, he did not ‘publicly’ pressure CPS to end the injustices the students endured. KOCO also shared the framework for its plan with the Bronzeville CAC in 2012. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.
4) In 2013, KOCO supported Dyett students who filed Title VI Civil Rights Complaints with the US Department of Education (DOE) regarding the closure of Dyett and the treatment of its students. The complaint was found viable and an investigation is currently underway with the DOE Office of Civil Rights. The planning process that began in 2009 culminated in the creation of the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School Plan. KOCO played a leadership role in the organization of hearings with Congressman Rush and Congressman Davis regarding the impact of school closings, held six town halls with feeder school parents, students and community residents and collected over 3,000 signatures and post cards in support of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.
5) In 2014, KOCO members once again sought support both for the reopening of Dyett and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. During a meeting with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, Ald. Burns told his constituents that because the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) and the Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) exists, he would not support the plan (It is important to note that CHAS is a selective enrollment school located on the edge of Oak Lawn on 111th near Pulaski and CVS in near 87th and Clyde).
During this same period KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett escalated its pressure on both the mayor and Ald. Burns to reopen Dyett, which included a 3-day sit-in at Ald. Burns’ ward office. I am also proud to say that during this period, I delivered the commencement address at Dyett’s 2014 graduation, at the request of Dyett students and one of the remaining teachers. After members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, KOCO and Northside Action for Justice literally chained themselves to a statue on the 5th floor of City Hall, and confronted the mayor at Bret Harte Elementary School in September 2014, a decision was made in October of 2014 to re-open Dyett.
To Ald. Burns’ point, he attempted to claim credit, but the facts, which are noted in major newspapers, federal documents, and police records, indicate a different story. It is not the mark of a leader to slander an organization and attempt to minimize their involvement or influence on a critical issue.
KOCO dried the tears of Dyett students and encouraged them to fight the discrimination they faced – not Ald. Burns.
KOCO supported the students neglected by CPS, providing after-school tutoring and helping them prepare for, be accepted and enrolled into college.
KOCO spoke out against the Illinois Network of Charter Schools when they attempted to disparage Dyett (as Dyett teachers fought back tears at the CPS board meeting regarding Dyett’s future) – not Ald. Burns.
And in absence of both concern and a vision from CPS, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett led a thoughtful process and created a plan that deserved to be evaluated on its merits (per a process that was both developed and abandoned by CPS and Ald. Burns). The new plan that was announced by Ald. Burns and the CPS CEO for an arts/technology hub school has not been made available to the public.
As for Ald. Burns’ assertion that KOCO wants to make money off of Dyett, the budget that was submitted with the committee’s plan speaks for itself. There is not a single line item for services from KOCO. Ald. Burns took two sentences from a 60-page document that refer to KOCO providing leadership development support and extrapolated a money ‘empire’ scheme. Yes, the facts are the facts. Read the proposal for yourself.
Back in 2011, when we met with Ald. Burns about the future of Dyett, he was dismissive and told those in attendance ‘we should be thinking of viable African American candidates for mayor’ referring to himself. During the meeting Ald. Burns’ concern for the future of Dyett seemed half-hearted at best. ‘My opinion’ hasn’t changed, and neither have the facts.