A group of protesters caused Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to shut down a budget meeting on Wednesday evening after he refused to answer their questions regarding the future of a city school.
According to local news reports, Emanuel was holding a public hearing about the city’s 2016 budget when residents protesting the closure of Dyett High School pressed him about the city’s plans for the future of the school.
After he repeatedly declined to answer their questions, the protesters swarmed the stage, demanding an answer from him “right now.” Chicago police quickly escorted Emanuel out of the meeting. The mayor’s office then ended the meeting early.
Dyett High School closed in June due to low test scores and enrollment rates, part of a wave of school closures in Chicago over the last two years. City officials have yet to make permanent plans for the school, but neighborhood residents want it to reopen next year as an open-enrollment, science-focused school called Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.
Some of the protesters have been part of a hunger strike that reached its 17th day on Wednesday. That same day, two of the protesters, Jitu Brown and April Stogner, took their fight to Washington, D.C., and delivered a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking him to intervene. The hunger strikers have insisted that they will not stop until city officials decide to keep the school open and select the community’s proposed plan.
"We’re going to do whatever is necessary to keep this school and have an open-enrollment school in our community,” Stogner said at a press conference. “I’m hungry. But I’m not really hungry for food -- I’m hungry for justice. I’m hungry for justice for my grandbabies, for all the kids in my community."
Their cause has begun to attract national attention, including from National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who both attended Wednesday's event in Washington.
While Dyett was once slated for permanent closure, city officials are considering several different proposals to reopen the school. However, protesters say the process has been slow and they are concerned that the delay will ultimately allow the school to remain closed. City officials postponed a public meeting about the school to focus on the city's budget.
Wednesday's meeting was the second of three scheduled public hearings about the city’s budget. Dyett protesters have been present at both meetings, trying to get a direct response from Emanuel on the future of the school. After the first meeting on Monday, Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool agreed to meet with the protesters but made no commitments.