A fight with police never seemed to be in the cards though, with the officers saying they supported the activists'’ demands, but had to ask them to move to the sidewalk.
One officer even took a moment to comfort Irene Robinson, who had suddenly burst into tears.
Several of the group said they had cried every day and were finding it increasingly difficult to control their emotions.
Brown said he felt like his thinking was becoming clearer the further into the fast he got, though his energy now only came in brief spurts.
The group was demanding a meeting with Burns, again asking him to support a proposal by the activists that Dyett remain a CPS-run school.
CPS is also considering a contract school proposal for an arts-based high school run by Little Black Pearl and a sports and business school proposed by former Dyett Principal Charles Campbell.
The hunger strike started after CPS delayed hearings on Dyett by a month, now set to be considered Sept. 15, with a vote by the Chicago Board of Education later in September.
"Chicago Public Schools is carrying out a community-driven process to select a new high-quality school for the former Dyett site," Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for CPS, said when the hunger strike started. "Identifying a high-quality education option for the former Dyett site is a priority for the district, and CPS is reviewing school proposals to determine the best open enrollment, neighborhood education option for the site."
Burns declined to comment, but in the past has said he will not publicly endorse any of the three options.
Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has also reportedly joined the hunger strike, but a representative from the union could not be immediately reached to confirm.
“I respect these brave people who are willing to put their bodies on the line for education for their children in this year of resistance,” union President Karen Lewis said Wednesday. “I’m calling on the board and the mayor to call a special hearing so this hunger strike can end before someone becomes seriously ill. I also stand in solidarity with them as they continue to fight to save Bronzeville’s only neighborhood high school.”
A nurse continues to check daily on the health of all those participating in the hunger strike.
American Federation of Teachers takes on racial justice
ST. LOUIS • The American Federation of Teachers — one of the nation’s largest unions — has broadened its agenda beyond teacher pay and standardized testing, to racial justice issues affecting students and communities across the country.
About 40 members of AFT’s Racial Equity Task Force gathered in conference rooms at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Friday to dissect how racism is institutionalized in the nation’s public schools.
For black children, it results in lower achievement, disproportionately high suspension rates and lower graduation rates. This makes it harder to find a job. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate for black men — 10 percent — is double that of white men.
“Our job, as important as it is, is not to simply to put together a set of policy solutions,” Randi Weingarten, AFT president, said before the group embarked on its work. “That is important. But we have to figure out how to elevate it, move it and make it real. That’s going to be really hard.”
With about a million members, the AFT is the second largest teachers union in the country. In Missouri, its members include teachers and other employees in St. Louis Public Schools.
Mary Armstrong, president of AFT St. Louis Local 420, was at the task force meeting, as were representatives and leaders from several dozen local unions from across the country.
Armstrong was part of discussions on how to better educate black students, particularly boys, by providing better professional development and cultural training for teachers.
“We want to break that pipeline from school to prison,” Armstrong said.
They will continue meeting in small groups throughout the weekend about how to address education, economic and criminal justice equity issues. They’re developing strategies on reforming the criminal justice system, and creating more equity in education and in the workforce.
Matthew Fogg, a retired chief deputy U.S. Marshal, and John Jackson, president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, are among the experts working with them.
“What I admire about this union — they’ve been ahead of the curve on some of these policy issues,” said Julianne Malveaux, an economist, educator and political commentator, who’s helping the group put together an action plan. “But in terms of action I’m not sure they’ve been ahead of the curve.”
In December, Weingarten visited St. Louis with U.S. Sec. Arne Duncan. They met with students in Ferguson and in St. Louis about their experiences in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. After that visit, Weingarten was visibly moved by the stories of trauma and healing.
“On a personal level, I think about, ‘What’s my personal responsibility?’” she said Friday, in an interview. “What can I do individually? And what can I do as president of this great union?”
Weingarten spoke repeatedly about school discipline. Schools must move away from “zero tolerance” policies and towards an approach that addresses the root cause of behavior problems, she said.
“You have to deal with the disruption, but let’s get kids the help they need,” she added. “Let’s come up with different kinds of strategies — peer intervention and restorative justice programs. At the end of the day it has to be about how do we keep kids in school, ready to learn.”
Weingarten told the group that she expects resistance from teachers and members whose practices and assumptions will be directly challenged.
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