Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Tuesday June 4th, 2013, 9:58am

Parents Unite At Lafayette Elementary, Pledge To Continue Fight Against Closing (VIDEO)

The fight against school closures is not over, according to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parents who strategized Monday morning at Jean D. Lafayette Elementary on Chicago’s West Side.

“CPS gave us this mess and a rushed enrollment process and we will not stand for it,” said Rousemary Vega, 32, an organizer of Monday’s meeting and parent of two students enrolled at Lafayette Elementary. “We’ve been fighting individually, but it has to stop. We need to get moms together and get moms involved to save our schools.”

Lafayette Elementary, at 2714 West Augusta Blvd., is one of 50 schools scheduled to close as the district attempts to address a reported $1 billion budget deficit and “utilization crisis” of nearly 140 half empty schools.

Early enrollment for more than 11,000 students currently attending closing schools began one day after the vote and ended last week. Parents were given a little more than a week to scout new institutions and plan for their children, during which schools hosted enrollment fairs and extended hours to help navigate the process.

According to CPS officials, 78 percent of displaced students have enrolled in new institutions for the 2013-2014 school year, more than 80 percent of which are choosing to attend the district’s designated welcoming school.

Vega's chlidren's welcoming school is Frederic Chopin Elementary, but she, along with several parents participating in Monday’s meeting, decided not to participate in the early enrollment process.

She said she felt she wasn't given adequate time to make a "proper decision" about her children's education.

“We were promised a guaranteed spot, a quality education and a smooth transition, yet so far we have received nothing but a rushed registration that has caused chaos,” she said, questioning the accuracy of CPS’ data on enrollment.

Vega said parents from across the city are being turned away from high performing schools, including welcoming schools. She called the enrollment process “disorganized and unprofessional.”

“We’re scrambling and we’ve found out we might not even have a spot,” she said.

Here’s more from Vega:

According to CPS, the district sought to enroll as many students affected by school closures as possible between May 23 and June 1 to get a projection of school enrollment for the fall.

“I am encouraged to see so many parents from closing schools already choosing to early enroll their children in their new school,” said CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett in a statement.  “Every child must have equal access to a high-quality education and taking the necessary steps to enroll our children in higher performing schools will help put our children on a path towards a brighter future.

Kathleen Consalter, 37, said she was given the run around by CPS officials and consequentially attended Monday’s meeting to help organize parents who want to save Lafayette school. She is a parent of a 5th grader enrolled in Lafayette’s low incidence special education program for students with Autism or severe disabilities. More than 30 percent of Lafayette's student body qualifies as special needs.

“I can’t let my child be ruffled by this, I’m going to insist she goes somewhere that’s organized and can ease this transition,” Consalter said, noting her daughter thrives at Lafayette and could regress and become more withdrawn if she is forced into a stressful situation.

Consalter said she was told her child would be welcomed at an Autism program at James Russell Lowell Elementary. But when she visited the school last week for enrollment purposes, she was told the facility had no Autism program. 

Upon visiting her second choice for enrollment, Joseph Stockton Elementary School (which is slated to merge with Mary Courtenay Elementary Language Arts Center), she said she was told she needed a personalized invitation letter from a special education coordinator. 

“I felt hopeless,” she said, adding she has not yet decided where she will send her child. “I feel like somebody dropped the ball here. It’s not the schools’ fault, but this is just so tumultuous.”

Attendees of Monday’s meeting devised plans for their fight to keep Lafayette open such as staging school sit-ins and starting petitions against CPS’ school closures.

Ellyson Carter, senior staff and West Side organizer for Action Now, suggested staging a protest at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children’s school, the University of Chicago Lab Schools.

“It’s going to take drastic measures to stop this,” he said. “Let’s go protest where Rahm’s kids go to school. If our kids can’t go to school, neither can yours.”

The meeting’s participants also discussed staging a protest at Byrd-Bennett’s panel discussion with the Chicago Tribune on June 18. 

“Lafayette is my family,” said Valerie Nelson, 43, a parent of two students enrolled at the school and the Local School Council chair. “They said our school would cost $22 million to update, but there’s no way that’s true.”

Nelson didn’t participate in the early enrollment opportunity for her students. She said she’s going to keep working and advocating against Lafayette’s closure. But she, and all the other parents who have yet to enroll their student in a new school, will be able to do so throughout the summer.

“Whatever we need to do, we’re going to do it,” she said. “We are going to organize for change and keep (Lafayette) open.”

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