Updated 06/19/13 – 11:10 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Wednesday marked the beginning of school closings in Chicago, with 28 elementary schools holding their final day of class before they close for good.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports the final bell will ring Wednesday afternoon at 28 schools on the Chicago Public Schools’ “Track E” school calendar: Altgeld, Armstrong, Banneker, Bethune, Bontemps, Calhoun, Delano, Emmet ,Goldblatt, Henson, Herbert, Key, King, Kohn, Lafayette, May, Morgan, Overton, Paderewski, Parkman, Pope, Ryerson, Songhai, West Pullman, Williams Elementary, Williams Middle, Woods, and Yale.
The students will have to attend new schools, what CPS officials have called “welcoming schools.”
CBS 2′s Jim Williams reports it was an emotional day for the Vega family, at Lafayette Elementary School in Humboldt Park, as Rosemary Vega prepared her two youngest children for their last day at their current school.
Like every school day, Wednesday started with a prayer at the Vega household.
Vega said she fought hard to keep Lafayette open, and now she feels like a failure.
“I almost feel like I let them down in the fight, because no matter what we did … or how we said it, I wasn’t able to save her school, or her music, so as a parent it just bothers me that my child is going through that,” she said, choking back tears.
Her 7-year-old son Jesus, and 11-year-old daughter Melanie walked to school Wednesday with their older sister, Nidalis, who is in high school.
“It’s sad, because our school’s closing, and that’s the last day that we’re going to be able to see school,” Melanie said.
She said she’s worried about not being able to see her friends at Lafayette anymore.
In all, the Chicago Board of Education has approved closing 49 elementary schools. Another 19 that run on the “Track R” calendar will have their final day of class on Monday: Buckingham, De Duprey, Dumas, Fermi, Garfield Park, Goodlow, Lawrence, Marconi, Mayo, Near North, Owens, Peabody, Pershing, Rose, Sexton, Stewart, Stockton, Trumbull, and Von Humboldt.
Two other schools were allowed to delay their closings. Canter Elementary will close in 2014, and Attucks Elementary will close in 2015.
Officials said they are now focusing implementing the Safe Passage Program at the welcoming schools, making a $7.7 million dollar investment to make sure students are safe walking into unfamiliar neighborhoods.
On Friday, city and CPS leaders came together to shed light on the process. They plan to reveal the official designated safe passage routes by August, after consulting with parents and local residents.
The district has begun hiring and training 600 new Safe Passage workers to provide security on those routes.
Chicago police officers and other city workers also will suit up for the Safe Passage Program on the first day of the 2013-14 school year.
While three lawsuits have been filed to stop the closures, at this point saving any of these schools is considered a longshot.
“I think that these decisions have been postponed for too long in Chicago. It’s not going to reduce the pain, but it will allow us to move forward over the next five years,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said at an event Tuesday night.
However, Chicago Teachers Union Karen Lewis has accused the district of ignoring input from parents and teachers, and relying on “rich white people” who have never stepped in a classroom to make decisions about education reform.
“Instead of working with parents and community, Chicago has the distinction of blaming parents and caregivers; accusing them of academic neglect, depriving students of resources, vilifying their communities,” Lewis said.
Opponents of school closings have said the school closings will force students to travel through dangerous neighborhoods to get to their new schools. They also have said, in many cases, the new schools kids will attend preform no better – if not worse – than the schools being closed.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who has criticized the district’s school closing plans, said he is worried about the impact they might have on students’ education and safety.
“It’s the unfamiliarity that some of these children face. People have been going to certain schools for a number of years. Everything is new for them, and given this transition, we want to make sure it does not affect their academic success,” Ervin said. “Then again, sometimes kids don’t want to go to school if they don’t feel safe. So we want to make sure the kids feel safe.”
CPS Chief Safety & Security Officer Jadine Chou said the district has worked with parents to come up with safe routes for kids to get to and from school.
“We have engaged the parents of our students affected by the school transitions, because we know that these parents can give feedback unlike anyone else. And so, over the past several weeks, along with my partners at Chicago Police, we have been leading school-specific safety planning meetings with parents,” she said.
Chou said, by the end of this week, she will have completed 50 safety planning meetings with parents. She emphasized the input of parents is vita to finalizing Safe Passage plans for each school.