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Lafayette Parents, Teachers Make Pleas to Save School

HUMBOLDT PARK — As members of Lafayette Elementary's orchestra head to Springfield for a show they hope will save their school, parents of other students at the Humboldt Park school spoke out about the proposed closing at a Friday meeting.

Parents, teachers and students gathered at Roberto Clemente High School, 1147 N. Western Ave.,  to address Chicago Public Schools officials — and attempt to keep the school open.

Thirty percent of the school's students are special needs, more than double the CPS average, and that makes the school different from others that are considered "underutilized," parents explained Friday.

"My son had been to four schools before he came to Lafayette, and he has improved so much in three years, — now he is on the honor roll," Letisha Nesbitt said of her 13-year-old autistic son, Javaris Bryant.

Nesbitt said she no longer has to hover over her seventh-grade son to make sure he's finishing his homework. Instead, he has found independence with help from Lafayette's autism program.

"He knows that he has special needs, but he's confident now," Nesbitt said.

The family lives in Little Village, but Javaris is bused all the way to Lafayette because of its special accommodations.

When it was her turn to speak, fourth-grade teacher Colleen Riley accounted for every room in the building and how it was being used, including a sensory room for autistic students, speech therapy rooms, counseling offices and storage rooms for all the instruments for Lafayette's much-loved string orchestra.

Only a handful of the schools 60-plus rooms were actually unused, Riley said.

"I don't see this as being underutilized," she said.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said the point of the meetings was to continue to allow parents and teachers to express their feelings about the school closings, which the CPS board will vote on at the May 22 board meeting.

"The CEO's point was to have a very rigorous community engagement process on the front end," Ziegler said. "Otherwise people would say, 'Why didn't you ask first?'"