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CPS creating safety routes for kids heading to new schools

Students leave Jean De Lafayette Elementary School March 21 2013. The school is one 50 schools slated be closed by

Students leave Jean De Lafayette Elementary School on March 21, 2013. The school is one of 50 schools slated to be closed by the city. | Getty

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:31AM

Jadine Chou, chief of security and safety for Chicago Public Schools, emphasized in an interview Monday that she is working closely with police to design safe routes for students whose elementary schools are on the chopping block.

Chou, who has been working with her police counterpart, Deputy Chief Steve Georgas, and the Chicago Police Department’s Gang School Safety Team, hopes to begin showing parents the new protected routes in the coming weeks. Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for Georgas to participate in the school route planning because of his experience in overseeing the security for the NATO Summit last year.

Thirty-five high schools and four elementary schools already have protected routes under CPS’ “Safe Passage” program. Still, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and some community leaders have been skeptical about the safety planning surrounding the 53 elementary schools that will close at the end of the school year. They say they’re worried about children having to cross gang boundaries to reach school.

CPS officials have said the walking distance between a student’s old school and new school won’t be more than four-fifths of a mile.

Chou and Georgas previously worked together on safety planning during the transformation of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex when she was head of security for the Chicago Housing Authority and he was the 18th District commander.

CPS couldn’t provide the exact date when school officials plan to start meeting with parents.

Even after CPS reveals the new routes, they won’t be set in stone, Chou said.

“We are constantly refining them when new information becomes available,” she noted.

Students must walk from home to one of the “hubs” on a route, Chou said.

“Every household will not have an individual safe-passage plan from their home to school,” she said.

“We will work to find appropriate coverage for children who are a bit tardy” and for those who participate in after-school activities, Chou added.

For the 35 high schools and four elementary schools in the Safe Passage program, there’s a conference call every morning between Chou’s team and the police to discuss any new safety issues along the routes.

The routes can change daily depending on concerns such as gang activity, a gas leak or a fatal accident, Georgas said.

“If something pops up on social media or a principal reports a concern he heard from a student, we are on the phone with the commander and chief of patrol to make sure we have the right plans for dismissal,” Chou said.

CPS pays “community watchers” about $10 an hour to work five to six hours a day to monitor routes. A school might have eight to 20 watchers depending on the route.

They must undergo a criminal background check, Chou said.

CPS is budgeting an additional $7.7 million to pay community watchers for the new safe-passage routes in the upcoming school year

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