Thousands of students in Chicago returned to school Monday in an overhauled district that saw 50 schools close, some teachers fired and "Safe Passage" routes created. Michelle Relerford reports.
More than 400,000 Chicago Public Schools students returned to class Monday, the first time the district has employed so-called "Safe Passage" routes to help children safely travel to and from school.
The city hired 600 people to spread out over 50 miles of Safe Passage routes to escort children and help their parents feel more at ease. More than 100 of Chicago's newest police officers also patrolled streets along the routes.
"It makes you feel a little safer to see all the police around," parent Terrence Moore said.
Parents of students at Charles Evans Hughes Elementary School walked with their children after a man was gunned down just two blocks away Sunday night.
There already have been a number of shootings along Safe Passage routes over the summer, the most violent seen in Uptown where five people were shot just outside a church last week.
Jeremiah Robinson, 28, was shot several times Sunday in the 1400 block of South Tripp. His family said he's recovering.
"He got hit in the neck and the back, but other than that he's OK," Felicia Cage said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett clarified the "Safe Passage" program is only "during the time the children come to school and leave school," but some are still concerned.
Worker David Starks said Sunday he will be stationed along the routes for six hours each day, monitoring students with his "eyes open for any suspicious activities harmful to youth."
"We are given a phone and we are able to make calls, contact the Chicago Police office and our supervisors," Starks said.
Ryan Priester with the Woodlawn Public Safety Alliance helped interview, screen and train the new Safe Passage hires. He said they are prepared to handle neighborhood conflicts
"We've had several trainings now that have dealt with how to break up those kinds of situations," Priester said, "how to keep themselves safe, how keep the kids safe, as well as reach out to emergency support services."
Mayor Emanuel was out early to oversee the first day of his overhauled school system, which saw 50 schools close at the end of the last year, and Byrd-Bennett greeted students at Fisk Elementary.
According to CPS, welcoming schools for the 12,700 students whose old schools were shuttered saw a number of upgrades, including new security cameras and computer labs. Ten schools have new engineering labs, more than a dozen received new STEM programs, and students from third to eighth grade are getting new iPads.
Yet class sizes are going up and the number of staff has gone down after the district laid off more than 3,000 employees and many schools were forced to cut their budgets by $100,000 or more.