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CHICAGO (CBS) – About two weeks before students return to school, Chicago Public Schools officials have released details on the new Safe Passage routes designed to protect kids as they move to their new schools this year.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song checked out one of the Safe Passage routes in the South Austin neighborhood.
RELATED: Map Of Safe Passage Routes
Several schools have been using Safe Passage routes since 2011, but now 59 additional schools will receive the same support for the upcoming school year, including the welcoming schools for the 30,000 students from 48 elementary schools that were closed in June. (Another elementary school is slated to close at the end of the upcoming school year.)
For Edward K. Ellington Elementary School, which is taking students from the shuttered Francis Scott Key Elementary School, students will be walking into an unfamiliar part of the neighborhood to get to their new school.
Yellow signs along the Safe Passage routes make it very clear where the city and the district will have volunteers and city workers stationed along students’ routes to school, starting when classes begin on Aug. 26.
School officials said they’re mailing maps of the Safe Passage routes to every family affected by the school closings, to make sure they clearly understand the new routes.
The district said the new routes are not permanent, and can be changed if problems arise.
“They should not be worried about whether or not they’re coming to school and going back home is in jeopardy,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said at a briefing on the new routes. “Our Safe Passage workers support students, not only by providing that sense of security for children, but being an extra set of community ears and eyes on the ground.”
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said the department has daily conference calls with CPS officials “to discuss crimes that occurred the day before, or new intelligence we’ve received, that may affect drop-offs or dismissals.”
CPS created the maps of the new Safe Passage routes with the help and input of parents and police. The district also hired 600 workers from the community, who are familiar with the neighborhoods where kids will be walking to school.
Training begins next week, and they will focus on developing a sense of trust with the 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.”
Safe Passage worker Kathryn Wiley said, “We look for the different, especially sex offenders and people that hang around the school, out of the ordinary, and in their cars, lingering around the area.”
She said the Safe Passage workers, who don yellow “CPS Community Watch” vests, also keep an eye out for gang activity.
“They just think we’re the police. They have a tendency to flee,” she said.
One parent said seeing signs posted along the new Safe Passage routes, and a map being made available more than two weeks before the start of school made her feel much more comfortable with the plan.
“At first I didn’t feel good about it, but now that I know that there will be people out here, making sure that everything is ok, I do feel better about it. I didn’t agree first with the school closings, and the kids having to go into unfamiliar territories, but I feel okay about it now,” Charisse Shaw said.
Since the start of summer, CPS has worked with police, community leaders, and parents to figure out where workers should be placed to provide security.
Last week, CPS chief safety and security officer Jadine Chou promised to clearly communicate with every parent so they’re not left in the dark.
“We’re going to be holding meetings for every welcoming school, so parents can come and see the final route, as well as meet the Safe Passage vendors,” she said. “Ask questions, meet them, get comfortable with them.”