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State

Chicago to hire 600 for school safe-passage routes

CHICAGO – The city of Chicago, which plans to close dozens of schools this summer to save money, has received 11,000 requests for help getting children to their new schools along safe-passage routes.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday that 600 adults will be hired next month to work along the routes, which are being established to make sure students from closed schools can get to their new schools safely.

Jadine Chou, Chicago Public Schools officer of safety and security, said parents at more than 40 schools receiving students from closed schools have had a chance to see the proposed safe routes and have given their input.

“No one knows these areas better than parents,” Chou said.

District officials have pledged to spend millions of dollars to enhance the existing Safe Passage program, which stations adults to stand watch along key routes and alert police of any problems. The program is similar to initiatives in New York and Los Angeles.

In May, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 schools and programs, the largest number of closings at any one time by any school district in recent memory, according to many experts.

The plan sparked protests and lawsuits from opponents who say the school closures disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will endanger children who may have to cross gang boundaries to get to a new school.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, have acknowledged the danger of mixing young people from different neighborhoods. Byrd-Bennett agreed in January not to close any high schools. And the district consulted maps of gang lines when choosing where to send elementary students whose schools were closing.

In a parallel effort, Chicago officials are inspecting hundreds of vacant buildings along the school routes, said Michael Merchant, commissioner of the city’s buildings department. Merchant has asked the public to report vacant buildings along school routes, so inspectors can secure them. Some buildings have been referred for possible demolition.

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