CPS backs away from magnet school overhaul

LaSalle Language Academy will not lose its citywide magnet status after all, CPS says.

December 21, 2011

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(Courtesy of LaSalle Language Academy)

Chicago Public Schools is pulling back from a plan to radically change one of its most popular schools.

The district wanted to phase out LaSalle Language Academy Magnet School, where 1,500 kids apply for about 70 open seats every year.

WBEZ first reported the recommendation, which would have turned the high performing, citywide magnet into a neighborhood school with a posh attendance boundary. That would have relieved overcrowding at nearby Lincoln Elementary.

But it also would have turned one of the city’s few integrated schools into a majority white school by closing the door on students from other neighborhoods. And parents feared their school’s unique language programs—run with desegregation funds—would be lost.

They complained.

Late Tuesday, schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard sent letters to parents at both Lincoln Elementary and LaSalle Magnet saying the proposal is off the table.

“To address the enrollment challenges at Lincoln, my team is continuing to examine all possible options, including both short and long-term solutions. However, as part of that solution, I will not recommend any changes to LaSalle’s magnet status,” Brizard’s letter to Lincoln parents states.

A CPS spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the plan to convert LaSalle to a magnet school “was just one possible solution raised at a parent meeting and we decided to explore other options.”  However, an internal CPS document obtained by WBEZ lists five possibilities to relieve overcrowding at Lincoln. The document discounts four of the five as “infeasible,” "disruptive," “too costly” or “time-consuming.”  Phasing out LaSalle as a magnet was “recommended.”  

Some LaSalle parents are concerned Brizard’s letters still leave the door open to changes that could fundamentally affect the school.

“I think they’re trying to calm people down because there was an outcry,” said LaSalle parent Keith Thomas.

“It has never made sense to us at LaSalle what they were recommending—and we still feel as though there still could be something coming where we’re involved.” Thomas says LaSalle parents want to help come up with a solution for Lincoln Elementary’s overcrowding issues.

Overall, the school system is less than 9 percent white, but the number of majority-white schools has increased from 19 to 25 since a court stopped watching the situation in 2009.