Chicago Public Schools is scrambling to get students at closing schools enrolled in new schools as soon as possible.
Last week Thursday, only about 50 percent of students at schools slated for closure had registered elsewhere. But a huge last-minute surge brought that number up to 75 percent, with some schools making significant leaps.
In 36 hours, West Pullman went from having 45 percent of its students registered to 100 percent registered. A clerk at West Pullman said she made lots of phone calls and grabbed parents during drop-off and pick-up to get them to registered by Friday evening’s deadline.
But about a dozen parents protesting outside Lafayette Elementary Monday deemed the enrollment push a “devastating registration mess” and lambasted CPS for giving parents just over one week after the vote to pick a new school.
“So far we have received nothing but a rushed registration that has caused chaos,” said Rousemary Vega, whose four children attend Lafayette. CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said Friday that parents can still register students throughout the summer.
One parent at the protest, Latrice Jamison has a daughter at Robert Emmet Elementary School, and said she has not enrolled her child at a new school. Yet, according to CPS figures, Emmet has registered 100 percent of its students. A clerk who answered the phone at Emmet Monday said all of their students have registered. When asked specifically about Jamison’s child, the clerk, who identified herself as Ms. Thomas, said Jamison did register her child.
The Monday protest, organized by the group Parents 4 Teachers, drew attention to two issues that have been prevalent throughout the closure process—what will happen to special needs students and whether or not students will be going to higher performing schools.
Transitioning students with special needs
According to numbers released by the district Monday, 100 percent of students in special education cluster programs have been assigned to a new school.
But that contradicts Kathleen Consalter’s experience. She has a fifth grade daughter in the autism program at Lafayette and said Monday she still doesn’t know where her daughter will go to school next fall.
Consalter said she was referred to Lowell, but when she went to register, the people in the main office had no idea what she was talking about. They said Lowell doesn’t currently have an autism program.
“I’m very worried, but at the same time, I won’t enroll her in a chaotic school and I won’t enroll her in a school that doesn’t have a program established,” Consalter said.
A CPS spokeswoman said students in Lafayette’s cluster program have been reassigned by central office to receiving school Chopin Elementary or nearby Lowell Elementary. There is not currently an autism program at either school, but next year, officials say, there will be two classrooms at Chopin and three at Lowell. The district’s Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services is training the staff at both schools on how to work with autistic children.
The district’s special education cluster programs—which are programs that offer self-contained rooms with strict size limits—may not only change because of the school closures. State education officials are talking about eliminating the class size limit on self-contained special education rooms. Currently, self-contained rooms cannot have more than eight students (or 14, if a teacher’s aide is present).
If the class size limits for special education are removed, CPS would not be legally required to have designated self-contained rooms at receiving schools for special education cluster programs.
Higher performing schools?
Less than a day after the Board of Education voted to close 50 public schools, parents were sent a letter saying they could enroll in any district school that has space.
But parents protesting Monday said that isn’t the case.
“I would love to send my child to a higher quality school where they have all the proper resources they’re promising us,” said Magdalene Thurmond, who has a child at nearby Duprey Elementary. “They’re not doing it. They’re turning us away from the Level 1 schools.”
The designated receiving school for Duprey students is De Diego Elementary, which is currently on probation. Both are Level 2 schools, the middle CPS performance rating, but Duprey is not on probation. Thurmond wants a higher-performing school, but said the ones she’s called have said they don’t have space.
A number of neighborhood schools do keep waiting lists and may not be accepting students from outside their assigned attendance boundaries. But Thurmond and other parents said some of the most coveted schools do have “empty seats” if you apply CPS’s utilization formula.
According to district data, there are 2,000 “empty seats” at about a dozen of the district’s coveted magnet and selective enrollment schools. But CPS says the deadline to apply to those schools passed in December and the schools have finished enrolling students by now.
Erica Clark, a CPS parent whose children attended magnet schools, said the district is unfairly holding different schools to different standards.
“If you call one of these schools, they may say, well we can’t take these kids because we have extra rooms for library and art and we have a special science lab,” Clark said. “That’s all fine. We want every school to have that. The problem is these schools have those things too. And those things weren’t taken into consideration for schools that were put on the chopping block. It’s fundamentally unfair to hold schools to different standards.”
A CPS spokeswoman said at least two of the schools the group named—Kershaw and Davis—are still taking applications because they didn’t have enough applicants during the regular magnet admissions process.
Becky Vevea is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation.