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‘Safe Passage’ routes put to test amid more shootings

Updated: September 27, 2013 6:31AM

The eyes of the city were on Chicago Public Schools “Safe Passage” routes Monday morning as a 28-year-old man was shot along one of the routes and a 14-year-old boy was shot to death near another one, the day before school starts.

The 14-year-old boy was shot and killed within a block of a welcoming elementary school, Melody Stem School , 3937 W. Wilcox. It’s at least the third fatal shooting along or near a Safe Passage route since mid-August.

About 12:20 a.m. Sunday, the boy, Lavander Hearnes, was standing outside in the 4000 block of West Wilcox Street with several other people when he was shot, authorities said.

He was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital at 9:04 a.m. Sunday, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said.

At Melody Stem School, several parents didn’t seem overly alarmed at the news of the shooting.

Some parents said shootings aren’t unexpected in the neighborhood, while others weren’t ready to judge Chicago Public Schools’ plans on the first day of school.

“I don’t really feel too threatened,” said Vicki Brown, 29, a parent with two kids at Melody. “It’s a relative thing. You can’t control the violence.”

Kaylyn Williams, the children’s father, agreed.

“I feel the kids are relatively safe,” he said, as sirens wailed in the distance.

Both Brown and Willams said they like what they’ve seen of Melody, but calling it a “work in progress.” Their children attended Edward C. Delano Elementary School last year.

“The teachers are very friendly and very organized for the first day,” Brown said.

Another parent, though, Kelvina Nance, 25, said she’s not overly impressed with the Safe Passage route and said she plans to walk her 6-year-old twins to school.

“It can’t be too safe because kids are still getting shot up,” Nance said, adding, “Wherever we go, we’re still on the West Side, and there are still going to be shootings.”

The 28-year-old man was shot about 11:35 p.m. Sunday in the 1400 block of South Tripp Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood, police said. The block is along the route to Hughes Elementary.

The man was walking when he heard shots and felt pain, police said. He was shot in the neck and suffered a graze wound to the back.

He was listed in guarded condition early Monday at Mount Sinai Hospital.

At the Hughes School at 15th and Kildare, parents reacted with weary resignation to news of the shooting.

“It’s really bad over here. I’m taking my grandson out of here,” said Linda McNulty, as she walked out of Hughes with her grandson Kenneth, 9. “I’m done. I’m done.” She said she was taking him to be transferred to Dvorak at Central Park and 16th. She had planned to transfer him before the shooting, but it strengthened her resolve. It was quiet around the school just before 10 a.m. , “But lunchtime, it’ll be a whole new dance,” she said.

Thousands of children walked unfamiliar sidewalks to newly assigned schools Monday morning in the wake of massive school closings.

At Tilton School at 223 N. Keeler, parents said they were impressed with opening day security efforts.

“I think they’re doing a good job. It’s a start,” said Kenyatta Laye, who walked her third-grade son, Travaras, to Tilton. “I still walk him myself. I won’t let him walk alone because of the neighborhood.”

Pastor Marshall Hatch from nearby New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist chirch said the issues in the neighborhood are more complex than gang rivalries. “This is a regional drug market. A lot of people from the tri-state region and the suburbs come off the Eisenhower Expressway and this is where they cop drugs.”

He succeeded in getting her on a wait list for a charter school and expects she will only be at Tilton one month.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who’ve been navigating the rocky aftermath of closing 47 elementary schools this year, insist the Safe Passage program is ready. Emanuel has declared it an “all-hands-on-deck” scenario in which every adult in Chicago — especially city workers — should lend a hand.

Six hundred newly hired Safe Passage workers in yellow vests fanned out early Monday along 53 new routes marked with bright yellow “Safe Passage” signs.

The Safe Passage workers were hired by vendors contracted by CPS to employ community members with a stake in the future of their neighborhood.

Harold Davis, one of the contractors, hired 60 people to line routes on the South and West sides.

“They know: You see trouble, get on your walkie-talkie and call your supervisor, the school or police,” Davis said.

The new routes are an expansion of an already existing program that Emanuel has touted as a success.

The routes, released less than three weeks ago, are meant to offset any hazards that could arise as children walk unfamiliar sidewalks and, many parents worry, cross gang boundaries to get to their new schools.

The program has garnered negative news coverage for what critics say is an ill-thought-out plan that was hatched at the last minute.

Monday marked a slew of changes for Chicago schools.

All of CPS’ 400,000 students, elementary and high school alike, are reporting to class on the same day. For another, it’s a whole week before Labor Day.

CPS approved in June the closure of 49 elementary schools and a high school program, 48 of which already closed their doors in June.

As part of the consolidation process, about 2,000 more classrooms got air conditioning installed this summer — just in time for suddenly sweltering temps expected to hit the mid-90s.

CPS reported Friday that 91 percent of children from the closed schools reenrolled in CPS, 78 percent of whom chose the school the district recommended for them.

How many turn up to those schools remains to be seen, as does how many will be homeschooled or show up at their old schools, as parents threatened during the school closing hearings.

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