Guards have to escort Chicago kids to new schools as they cross gang boundaries

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  • Safe Passage program hires protection  hires for Chicago Public Schools as students cross gang  boundaries
  • No incidents of trouble reported on its  first day today
  • Parents are skeptic over whether the  program will continue to protect kids

By  Associated Press

PUBLISHED: 15:20 EST, 26  August 2013 |  UPDATED: 15:20 EST, 26 August 2013

Thousands of Chicago children whose schools  were shuttered last spring walked to new ones on the first day of school today  under the watchful eye of police officers.

They were also joined by newly hired safety  guards – there to provide protection as the kids crossed unfamiliar streets,  many of them gang boundaries.

No incidents of trouble were reported, police  said.

Chicago Police patrol the neighborhood as Crystal Stoval delivers her niece Kayla Porter from their south side home to Gresham Elementary School todayChicago Police patrol the neighborhood as Crystal Stoval  delivers her niece Kayla Porter from their south side home to Gresham Elementary  School today

A Chicago Police officer patrolling the neighborhood watches school children board a buss outside Gresham Elementary SchoolA Chicago Police officer patrolling the neighborhood  watches school children board a buss outside Gresham Elementary School

While that didn’t surprise parents and  grandparents, they said they were still concerned that the city’s obvious show  of first-day force won’t keep their children safe in the weeks and months to  come.

‘I think it’s just show-and-tell right now,’  said Annie Stovall, who walked her granddaughter, nine-year-old Kayla Porter, to  Gresham Elementary School, which is about five blocks farther from home than  Kayla’s previous South Side school.

‘Five, six weeks down the road, let’s see  what’s going to happen.’

Kathy Miller stood in front of Gresham  Elementary with her three children, waiting for a bus that would take them to  another school.

She scoffed at the Safe Passage program, in  which guards clad in neon vests line Chicago streets, saying it won’t be long  before brightly colored signs announcing the program’s routes will be riddled  with bullets.

Annie Stovall, left, walks with her daughter Crystal Stoval, right, and her granddaughter Kayla Porter to Gresham Elementary SchoolAnnie Stovall, left, walks with her daughter Crystal  Stoval, right, and her granddaughter Kayla Porter to Gresham Elementary School  in Chicago

Thousands of students will walk newly designated Safe Passage routes after Chicago Public Schools announced in May it would close about 50 schools and programsThousands of students will walk newly designated Safe  Passage routes after Chicago Public Schools announced in May it would close  about 50 schools and programs

‘Those signs don’t mean nothing,’ she  said.

The preparation and show of force shows  what’s at stake for Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school  district, after it closed almost 50 schools last spring in the hopes of  improving academic performance and saving millions of dollars.

About 12,000 of the district’s 400,000  students were affected by the closures.

For months, parents, teachers and community  activists have warned that forcing children to pass through some of the city’s  more impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods — where some already walking in  the middle of the street to avoid being ambushed by gang members — to get to  school puts them at undue risk.

Statistics suggest those concerns are valid.  An analysis of Chicago crime data by WBEZ-FM found that in 2013, there have been  133 shootings and 38 homicides in and around areas that have been newly marked  as Safe Passage routes.

Chicago Police patrol the neighborhood as children arrive at Gresham Elementary School Chicago Police patrol the neighborhood as children  arrive at Gresham Elementary School

Crystal Stoval delivers her niece Kayla Porter to Gresham Elementary School on the first day of classes Monday, Aug. 26Crystal Stoval delivers her niece Kayla Porter to  Gresham Elementary School on the first day of classes Monday, Aug. 26

And if the attention Chicago received after a  15-year-old honor student was killed about a mile from President Barack Obama’s  home in January is any indication, there is no doubt a similar media firestorm  will occur if a child is caught in gang crossfire on the way to or from  school.

One officer standing outside Gresham  Elementary summed up the pressure the police department and City Hall are under  this year, joking that children ‘better not get a splinter or we’ll all be out  of a job.’

With the hope of preventing problems, the  financially strapped city hired 600 workers at a rate of $10 an hour to  supplement a Safe Passage program that has existed since 2009, — launched the  same year a Chicago honors student’s beating death was videotaped.

Police worked with residents and CPS to map  out routes near 52 of the so-called ‘welcoming schools’ that are taking in  students from the closed schools. Along those routes, the city has put up scores  of ‘Safe Passage’ signs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also deployed city  departments to repair sidewalks, replace street lights, paint over graffiti and  board up nearly 300 abandoned buildings.

On Monday, Emanuel didn’t mention Safe  Passage, focusing instead on changes that have been made for this school year,  starting with a full day of kindergarten. But last week, he told about 1,000  people at a training session that the program is ‘about more than just building  a route to school.

Safety Guard Renee Green high-fives Demari Hill, 5, as she heads to schoolSafety Guard Renee Green high-fives Demari Hill, 5, as  she heads to school

‘It is about building a route to college,  career and beyond…’ he said.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said  Monday he was pleased with how things were going, particularly in what he saw as  evidence of community and parent involvement.

‘I’m seeing small groups of kids being walked  to school by their parents, or their older brothers or sisters,’ McCarthy told  reporters.

‘This goes to the heart of what we’ve been  talking about since I’ve been here, which is . to me, this is an opportunity.  This is true community policing.’

But crime statistics and shootings, like the  one in the Uptown neighborhood last week along a Safe Passage route, only  underline what parents say is a fact of life: Danger lurks.

‘They will ride to school for the rest of  their life, as long as I’m in Chicago,’ Jennifer Press said, explaining her  determination to keep her kids out of harm’s way and from gangs from preying on  them.

She was at Gresham Elementary to register her  four-year-old daughter there because the pre-Kindergarten class at a school  closer to her home is full.

For her part, nine-year-old Kayla professed  she wasn’t worried about all the gangs and the dangers of the streets that she’s  heard her grandmother, Annie Stovall, and other grown-ups talk about — as long  as her grandmother and aunt who walked with her to school are  nearby.

‘I’m going to be OK, as long as they’re with  me,’ she said.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2402320/Guards-escort-Chicago-kids-new-schools-cross-gang-boundaries.html#ixzz2d9HKB3jN Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook



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