Built in 1893, Lafayette stands between Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park in West Town.  It has four recently restored historic murals painted in the Progressive Era by Robert Wadsworth Grafton.

120 years later, Lafayette continues this arts legacy as a Fine Arts Magnet Cluster school. In addition to visual art and music instruction during the school day, one-quarter of the students at Lafayette participate in daily after-school music instruction through the 13-year old Merit Music partnership. The school has the largest string orchestra program of any elementary school in the city.  The orchestra has become a YouTube sensation since the announcement that Lafayette is on the closure list with a video of a concert from March 2013.  At least 25 of the students in the orchestra have IEPs.  GE Capital recently donated $30,000 for their music programs.  You can hear music teacher Arthur Weible’s presentation about their amazing music program here.

Lafayette’s special education program began in 1997 with one teacher and one student with autism.  It has grown to 66 students in the Low-Incidence Cluster (LIC) program (mostly autism) and is unusual in that it spans pre-K through 8th grade, providing much needed continuity for its students.  Special education classrooms have a limit of 13 students—one of the reasons that on paper Lafayette is underutilized according to the CPS calculations that classify schools as underutilized if there are fewer than 24 students per homeroom.  In addition, Lafayette has several innovative special-education resource rooms and offices for additional special education staff (occupational therapists, etc.)

Faculty have been attracted to and stayed at Lafayette specifically because of the scope and quality of the autism/LIC program. Lafayette is frequently used as a training facility for LIC professional development due to the wide spectrum of both autism and ages, as well as their highly-qualified staff and faculty. Dedicating 62% of the special education programming and staff to LIC students makes Lafayette one of only a select few schools in all of CPS in its ability and experience with teach these students from Pre K through 8th grade in a safe environment.

In addition, all teachers at Lafayette work toward inclusion in every classroom. Special and general education teachers work together to allow the maximum number of students to experience the classroom. No students are self-contained unless absolutely necessary based on recent behavior and spectrum needs.

Lafayette also has a transitional billingual program for its large English language learner population (117 students or 24%) with three self-contained bilingual classrooms for under third grade and a pull-out program for 4-8th graders, all taught by teachers with bilingual certification.  There are two Head Start classrooms at Lafayette as well. A summary of the many special programs can be found in this powerpoint.

Out of the 478 students at Lafayette, 56% receive either special education or bilingual services.  There are 152 students with an Individualized Education Plan or 504—32% of the student body.  60% of the special ed population, 91 students, have a diagnosis of Behavior Disorder, Emotional Disorder or Learning Disability.  All of these 91 students are required to take the ISAT, and their performance measures are factored into Lafayette’s AYP goals.

According to one teacher, a decade ago, “there was much more of a gang influence in the neighborhood and decreased parent involvement”, but recently “there has definitely been an upward trend in the neighborhood and in the school climate and parent involvement.”  Lafayette’s principal, new in the 2012-2013 school year, brought the City Year program to Lafayette, part of AmeriCorp.  Young adults working with City Year have been at Lafayette all year in the middle school classrooms, helping out teachers and students ,as well as running camps over winter break and spring break.  On Martin Luther King Jr. day, City Year brought in over 700 volunteers who painted murals and quotes all over the school. Lafayette’s cafeterias and parking lots were just renovated.

One parent’s perspective

Valerie Nelson calls herself mommy of 2 Lafayette kids, LSC chair, parent volunteer and beyond hopeful parent.  Her daughter Leza has been at Lafayette for 3 1/2 years.  Valerie writes:

“She started there non-verbal and in diapers. Her teachers have shown me that she can be more than her diagnosis.  It’s my second home. My husband calls it my second love. When it comes for anything for the kids, teachers, school, he doesn’t fight me on it, he helps me. We’ve (teachers, therapists) developed the sensory room, the fine motor skills room. My cousin and I sewed weighted blankets, lap pads and scarves for the classrooms. Without us being close, parents, teachers and myself couldn’t have done it. We wouldn’t have known the need for something we could make ourselves. We’ve raised funds in the building for the sensory room and fine motor skills room! The staff totally supports us.

Most other autism programs isolate the special needs kids. At Lafayette, we’re mixed up with regular kids, inclusion, in music,art, gym, recess and technology. Our Gen Ed kids learn when they are little kids that special needs kids can be treated like normal kids. They’ve been together the whole entire time. They learn they’re just kids.The staff knows all the kids, and go out of their way with them. One little girl who hugs me every time she sees me, has never said a complete word. One day recently while sitting next to our security guard (during indoor recess) the same little girl didn’t want to leave the auditorium. The security tried to give her a book to calm her down and she said, “No!” A complete word. Something I have never heard from her. As a mom of a child who started at Lafayette with a non-verbal daughter I know how desperate it feels to hear one clear word.

CPS has said the building should hold 1300 kids. Currently, we have 478 kids. CPS says our building is underutilized. I don’t see how because we have 5 autism/low incidence and 3 cross category / SpEd rooms (each with a max of 13 kids per room. Least Restrictive Environment) as well as rooms for sensory, fine motor skills, office for speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychologists, caseworker, social worker, after school rooms, I found we have only five or six unused rooms. .

[…]My oldest daughter Tesa (has a 504, has ADHD) plays in the string orchestra. Amazingly enough we have 25 kids with IEPs play in the orchestra. Where else would these kids receive the support to be able to do so?

What an “Underutilized” School Looks Like

  • First floor: 11 occupied classrooms, 4 classrooms used for meetings and trainings by the autism department or other professional development.  Additional rooms are the main office, teachers’ lounge, balcony to the auditorium.
  • Second floor: 17 rooms with only one empty room.  Rooms include, the gym, library, computer lab, a sensory room, an OT fine motor room, counselor’s office, bilingual coordinator’s room/office, and a special-ed technology room .
  • Third floor:  20 occupied rooms including a speech-language pathologist’s office, music room, three additional rooms used for the after-school orchestra practice, and a large art room.

In total there are five low incidence/autism classrooms (with an AM and PM preschool class), two Head Start preschool classes, three self-contained, cross-categorical special education classes, and three special-ed resource rooms.

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Post author: Leah Harp


3 thoughts on “Lafayette

  1. My name is mandi swan I am a parent at Lafayette elementry I currenyly have three of my 5 children at Lafayette two of which have an iep. My youngest in school is liana she started out in a regular ed classroom coming from a home help program being transitioned into school she was mumbling her words and nobody besides me could understand her when she spoke. Today my daughter is attempting full sentences a point that I didnt think would come this quickly. If it had not been for the personalized speech therapy and one on one time she recieved ove rthe past two years im not sure where my daughter whould be today.

    I also have a daughter with odd in a regular ed classroom who is closely watched and unde rstood by her teacher. Her diagnosis of odd was hard to deal with at first but she went from being a misbehaved child in school to an understood well developed hard working student. Without her teachers knowhow my daughter couod have easily been steped over by a school who would have just made it seem as though she was a bad student but because of the special attentnion Lafayette teachers show to their student we were able to work closely in taking control over my daughter situation.
    And last but not least we have my son ian diagnosed at the age of 4 with mild to moderate autism the biggest nlow to our family bar none. We have had our share of schools and experiences with therapies and programs Lafayette is the absolute best decision we as a family have ever made for my son. He has gone from being non verbal to attempting complete sentences, from his academics to his personality my sons improvement has been all but remarkable. We could not have asked for anything better. Lafayette beng a cluster school is one of the most important aspects in my sons life right now his develpoment depends on my ability to keep him in a cluster school with inclusion programs for children with hear that my son went from being in his own world to being faught over to be picked for a team of children his age in the general ed was a developmental acheivemnet met for my son. To be included as a peer reather than the kid that has a disability wss just heart see my son on the honor roll and pass state exams is just the beginning for him and it is all because of the smaller numbers in classrooms and special programs and rooms to aid our children in becoming future adults in becoming world ready and to threaten to take that away from them is injust and immoral.
    Our children deserve the best education they can receive so why take away an already great educational enviornment to put them into a more crowded and u nknown education. So I ask to you what good are you truely doing for my children?

  2. i wish you luck in keeping Lafayette open it says like a god send for children with disabilities it is also nice to see that they have regular students as well. Maybe what you need to try to do is rebill the school as a special ed school which I would think would demand smaller class sizes and maybe get a few more students so you are able to stay open

  3. Diane,
    I’m afraid you are giving the people in charge of this school district far too much credit. In fact two other 100% special education schools are on the closing list as well, Buckingham ( and Near North ( I urge you to read their stories too.

    In fact, schools with special education populations are being disproportionately targeted for closings in this mass closure because CPS’ utilization calculation ignores special education class sizes entirely. (Jeanne Marie Olsen’s case study of Trumbull illustrates this well: There are numerous other high-SPED populations schools on the list: Trumbull (, Stockton (, Morgan (, and more, including some we don’t have posts for (e.g. Peabody) but hope to soon.

    On top of this, Illinois is in the midst of attempting to rescind class size limits on special education students that have been in place for decades: Given the timing of this, it is likely that the fact that special ed class sizes were not taken into account in the utilization formula was a deliberate choice.

    The callousness and cruelty of the mass school closings, especially with respect to the treatment of special education and homeless students, is very hard to wrap one’s mind around, but it is a fact. ( Please share this information with others.

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