With the start of the new school year two weeks away and Chicago Public School parents lamenting the lack of information about the heavily-touted "safe passage" routes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office released a map of the routes Friday.
Parents worried their children will pass through gang territory and unsafe routes to get to their new "welcoming" schools this fall have been anxiously awaiting updates on the routes all summer, but critics say the program is still not ready despite the mayor's Friday announcement.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) told the Sun-Times he saw "flaws" in the program, and said CPS has already erected safe passage signs along routes that are considered dangerous or yet-to-be finalized. “One hand doesn’t know what the other hand’s doing right now.”
With nearly 13,000 children being shifted to new schools, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis also blasted the safe routes timeline saying there hasn't been enough time to properly finalize the routes.
“It’s so unfortunate the way CPS always seems to do things at the last minute,” Lewis said. “These are plans that should have been in place before they even announced school closings. I’m very worried about what’s going to happen when school starts."
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), meanwhile, had a different take: “Overall, I thought it was a sound plan and they said they would tweak it, if need be, going forward. At least in my ward, I think they’re ready."
CPS has reportedly been on daily conference calls with Chicago police to discuss new intelligence that could affect planning, according to NBC Chicago. The city's top cop, Superintendent Garry McCarthy, also noted helping students cross gang lines is not a new concept for CPS, which has operated a smaller scale safe routes program for several years.
CPS security chief Jadine Chou said "we absolutely we will be ready” the first day of school.
With so many schools closed this year, the Tribune reports CPS added nearly $8 million to the safe passages program and is hiring an additional 600 workers to man the routes before and after school.
According to CBS Chicago, the routes will be clearly marked with yellow signs that indicate where the city and the district will have volunteers and city workers stationed along students’ routes to school.
Training the safe passage workers was supposed to start this week but is delayed until Aug. 15, just a week and a half before the school year starts. During the trainings, a worker told CBS the focus will be on building trust with students.
“They’ll just say, ‘Hey, there’s been a fight around here after hours.’ They may say, ‘Hey, there’s a suspicious car,’” one Safe Passage worker said. “What’s even better is some of the students — if their parents or somebody are just a couple of minutes late — they say, ‘Can we stand by you?’ They feel safe.”