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Parents Gather at Lafayette to Complain About Enrolling Kids in New Schools

 Parents of students from several closing Humboldt Park schools gathered at Lafayette Elementary School to protest school closings and to complain of problems with enrolling in new schools.
Lafayette Protest - 6/3/13
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HUMBOLDT PARK — Parents of several closing schools gathered at Lafayette Elementary School Monday morning to again protest closures and complain about problems of enrolling their children in new schools.

Chicago Public Schools announced Monday that 78 percent of students in closing schools have already been enrolled for the next school year, and that 83 percent of them have chosen to go to their designated welcoming schools.

CPS had been looking to get as many students enrolled as possible between May 23 and June 1 to get an accurate number of enrollment at new schools in the fall, a CPS news release said.

But parents at the protest said they felt rushed to make a decision about schools they still felt unfamiliar with.

"That isn't enough time," said Lafayette parent Rosemary Vega. "It is not adequate time to make any proper decisions about our children who have been disrupted from the quality education they did have. This is very difficult on us, the families who are dealing with this."

Many of the Lafayette parents present repeated concerns about special needs children who had found success in Lafayette's special programming. More than 30 percent of the school's students are special needs, about double the CPS average.

Parent Mandi Swan has three children at Lafayette, one of whom is autistic. Autistic kids from Lafayette are being told to enroll in Lowell Elementary, while the general education students are being sent to Chopin.

Swan had hoped to get all of her children in Lowell, but was told there wasn't room for all of them.

"I feel like I'm stuck in a hole that I cannot get out of because [CPS officials] put me there," she said.

The 28-year-old mother of five — two aren't yet in school — said she visited Lowell last week but was told the woman she needed to talk to was on vacation. She even left the protest early to head over there and try again to figure out what to do about her kids.

Another mother, 37-year-old Kathleen Consalter, and her 11-year-old autistic daughter have a story much like other parents at Lafayette.

"I switched three schools in order to find this program," she said. "She's been here for three years. It's an established program, the teachers know what they're doing. They have excellent teachers and the [general education] children really know and understand the kids with autism because they've been going here since they were little."

This social interaction with general education kids is something Consalter fears her daughter will lose at Lowell. Like other Lafayette parents, she also fears revisiting problems that arise when her daughter switches schools.

"She gets upset, she doesn't want to go to school. It's hard on her," Consalter said. "She becomes more clingy to me, more withdrawn."

Valerie Nelson, mother of two daughters at Lafayette and the Local School Council chair said she's had enough.

Though she holds out hope Lafayette will somehow be saved, she said she will move to Aurora and enroll her daughters there if that doesn't happen.

"I don't want to be a part of this anymore," she said, adding that she had been through school closure threats before. "It's going to happen again. In another two, three years it's going to disrupt my children's education again."

The 42-year-old mother has family in Aurora and believes she'll find more stability in the schools there.

"I don't want my children to be part of the insanity," she said.

CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the district's Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services visited Lowell May 8 and trained staff in teaching and working with autistic students, adding that the office is "continuously working with that school community on the transition."

The office also "personally reached out" to six families who visited Lowell last week and "found no concerns from parents," she said.

Outside of the Lafayette-Lowell transition, CPS said this week it will begin "targeted outreach" to parents of students who have not yet enrolled and address any of their continuing concerns.