Safe path to school key for CPS students

March 26, 2013 2:59:37 AM PDT
An effort is under way to make sure Chicago Public Schools students who will change schools next year because of closings will have a safe route to and from school each day.

Some will be forced to travel through unsafe neighborhoods and rival gang territories to get to class.

Robert Emmet Academy has stood at Madison and Central for generations. It is set to close. Half its students are to go a few blocks north to Duke Ellington.

Francis Scott Key has stood for generations. It is set to close. All of its students will go a few blocks south to Ellington.

Jimmy Cole is a fourth grader at Key. His grandmother usually walks with him a short distance to his school. "Now with Key shutting down, she's got to walk all the way to Duke Ellington," Cole said. "So that's a bit of a walk."

For Jimmy and fellow students from Key, the trip to Ellington will take them literally to the other side of the tracks - under viaducts, across busy streets.

"CPS has to show us a plan that reassures parents that the kids will be safe," 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham said.

The Alderman says that for all the kids coming to Ellington which could have as many as 900 students, safe passage is not so much about gang turf as it is about distance, and traffic, and change.

The CPS plan is to double the amount of money spent on the existing safe passage program - expanding the patrols of radio equipped parents and paid volunteers who are to give their watchful eyes to students. Graham thinks they should be on every block.

"We want to make sure the people participating are people from the community. We don't want to see people in the safe passage who are not from the community," Graham said.

CPS has a framework for the safe passage effort, but different schools have different needs, so the details - who's in the program, where are they stationed, what gear are they issued, what kind of added police protection is needed are details still being developed.

"Long before September we're going to have a good plan in place as we do right now and we'll be able to do it," Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.

Some of those Safe Passage details will take greater shape in April when community meetings are planned for each of the schools proposed for closing.

Whether or not the final closing plan changes, it's apparent from the number of consolidations that a lot more people will be needed for the safe passage effort, and that's part of what's being worked on now.