On the first day of school in Chicago this year, it wasn’t just parents escorting their kids. The city hired security workers to make sure kids got to school safely, part of a program called Safe Passage. According to the New York Times, the program is the centerpiece of an increased effort by city officials to crack down on violent crime.
While many cities have programs to help children get to and from school safely, experts said few appear to be as elaborate and comprehensive as Chicago’s — a fact that advocates held up as proof of the city’s intense commitment to education and critics described as an unhappy reflection of the city’s struggle with violence. Known as Safe Passage, Chicago’s program began after the beating death in 2009 of a 16-year-old student, Derrion Albert, after he left his South Side high school one afternoon.
But with the closing of so many schools, city officials say the number of routes has more than doubled this year and the cost of the program has also nearly doubled, to $15.7 million.
By Monday, along the Safe Passage routes, some 1,200 unarmed workers, wearing neon vests, carrying cellphones that doubled as walkie-talkies and making $10 an hour, had been trained to stand watch as students passed by. To prepare, city employees in recent weeks demolished 41 vacant buildings along the routes, trimmed 4,900 trees, removed 2,800 instances of graffiti and fixed hundreds of streetlights.
Earlier this year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel came under fire for announcing the city would close 47 schools. Parents were concerned about their children’s safety getting to and from schools that were now further away from their homes.
“The ultimate goal of all efforts — both in the building, on the way to the building and at home — is so kids will think about their studies, not their safety,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spent part of the morning along Safe Passage routes around the city, said later in an interview. “The city is diverse. This isn’t everywhere. But it does address certain parts of the city and certain communities so every child has a level playing field.”
Read more at the New York Times.