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Safety is hard to find on Safe Passage routes: Mitchell

Updated: November 2, 2013 6:25AM



I am not a fan of the Safe Passage initiative.

I get that the parents of children reassigned from closing schools had safety concerns.

But yellow vests and traffic signs won’t stop a bullet. Moreover, the areas where people are being shot on the street are the same as those where children are shuffled.

Similarly, an analysis by the Sun-Times found that 48 of 53 Safe Passage routes at schools that took in children from closed schools have sex offenders registered along them or within 1/8 mile.

Under Illinois law, registered sex offenders can’t live within 500 feet of a school. So it appears that the Chicago Police Department must have taken that restriction into consideration when mapping out the routes.

But that won’t stop some mothers from worrying that a sexual predator may be watching from a window as her son or daughter makes his way to school. The perception from this point on will be that a sex offender is lurking behind every Safe Passage sign.

People who live in neighborhoods already burdened by crime have one more reason to hang their heads.

Worse yet, because there were so many school closings, the Safe Passage signage reinforces the misconception that black neighborhoods are dangerous.

It is tragic that any neighborhood in the city has become so under fire, school kids have to be shepherded along a certain route.

That just doesn’t happen in other neighborhoods in the city. In other areas, kids are free to ride their bikes and skateboards to school and don’t have to scurry along designated streets.

There’s nothing wrong with adults getting paid to keep an eye out, especially during this period of high unemployment. But when adults have to be posted like sentinels, we owe our children more than an illusion of safety.

We owe them dramatic change.

Unfortunately, the Safe Passage program shifts the responsibility for improving the neighborhood where the schools are located.

That hasn’t worked.

This latest watch program is an expanded version of the “Culture of Calm” initiative that was established after Derrion Albert was beaten to death near Fenger High School in 2009.

Derrion’s fatal mob-beating was captured on a cellphone video that went viral. Five teenagers were convicted of the brutal crime.

Although the crime took place after school hours and off school property, the crime was so appalling, CPS took the blame.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to town and later gave Fenger a $500,000 grant for after-school programs and transportation.

Former School Chief Ron Huberman invested $60 million in an anti-violence pilot program at six high schools.

But while these initiatives were credited with reducing crime at high schools, mayhem near schools has continued.

Last weekend, four people were shot, none fatally, along a Safe Passage route near the Dulles School of Excellence on the South Side.

Dulles is the same welcoming school where staff and teachers have been hustling students out of the building after school because of recent gun violence. It also is where Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently cut the ribbon on a new playground and turf field.

Because of its so-called Safe Passage designation, children attending Dulles will likely be stigmatized by the violence going on around them.

That doesn’t happen at private schools like De La Salle Institute at 34th and Michigan and St. Ignatius College Prep in the 1000 block of West Roosevelt.

Both of these Catholic institutions are in areas of the city that once experienced high crime that spilled over from public housing developments.

Yet, the institutions’ image was not tarnished.

Both institutions still have a reputation of offering a safe environment for learning. Indeed, the young people who attended these schools didn’t appear to worry about being preyed upon by people in the surrounding community.

Besides having adequate police protection, these schools have a level of upkeep that says people care.

That kind of respect is missing in the Safe Passage neighborhoods, where students walk to school looking over their shoulders.

Unfortunately, most of the public discussion about public schools is negative.

But until we see public schools as the beacon of hope they are, things won’t get much better.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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