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Emanuel touts CPS safety workers as ‘front line’ protecting schoolkids

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks members Safe Passage program during training sessiChicago State University Chicago Wednesday Aug. 21 2013. Mayor

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to members of the Safe Passage program during a training session at Chicago State University in Chicago, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says workers hired to help kids get to and from school safely will be "on the front lines" when Chicago Public Schools begin classes.(AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

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Updated: September 23, 2013 2:45PM

In a pep rally-like atmosphere, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday pumped up hundreds of safety workers he’s relying on to protect thousands of Chicago Public Schools students as they walk unfamiliar sidewalks to their newly assigned schools.

“You are our front line,” Emanuel said to steady applause as he looked out on a sea of safety workers in yellow vests who filled an auditorium at Chicago State University.

Emanuel bolstered their ranks by 600 in the last few weeks. When classes begin Monday, each new employee will oversee designated “Safe Passage” routes. The safety workers are undergoing five days of training.

After garnering negative news coverage for what critics say is an ill-thought out plan that was hatched at the last minute, Emanuel took a jab at media covering the event Wednesday.

He encouraged the workers to face television cameras.

“I want the people up there in the rafters, if you want to throw something at the cameras, go ahead, have at it. You let ‘em know the City of Chicago is on watch for the children of Chicago.”

The new “Safe Passage” routes are an expansion of an already existing program and were announced after Emanuel decided to close 50 schools, displacing thousands of students.

The routes were released two weeks ago and 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.

Each route is marked with yellow “Safe Passage” signs. Two fatal shootings have occurred on new routes in the last few weeks.

Deborah Harper, 59, is a newly hired safety worker who, as a native of Garfield Park, has witnessed violence before. “I know instinctively if something is about to occur,” Harper said Wednesday.

Training, which Harper said was adequate, has cemented one thing most of all in Harper’s head: call for help.

“If there’s violence, we know the protocol, we call 911. ... If there’s a shooting we’ll fall to the ground and hopefully grab the children with us and then call 911.”

And standing on her feet for five hours in the morning and afternoon won’t be a problem.

“I was a letter carrier for years. I like being on my feet,” she said.

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