A week into the new school year, the Chicago Public Schools’ expanded “Safe Passage” program is cautiously being marked a success even amid new reports of Safe Passage workers walking off the job.
“Last week, we got through the mornings and the afternoons without any incidents. The fact is that’s going to continue,” Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told CBS Chicago Tuesday morning.
Hours later, CBS learned of massive turnover in pockets of the city as well as allegedly unmanned corners along routes. In the Roseland neighborhood, the station reports half the safe passage workers quit last week alone and that a designated spot at 119th and State went unmanned Tuesday morning.
A supervisor for American Enterprise, the vendor responsible for that route in Roseland, told CBS the report was untrue and that “floaters” cover the area, but was later unable to explain why no worker was at the corner during the designated passing time Tuesday morning.
Earlier, the parents in public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Illinois told WBEZ turnover of Safe Passage workers is bound to be an issue for a job that pays $10 an hour for a split shift totaling about five or so hours a day.
McCarthy’s squad and CPS have been under close scrutiny since the school year started as thousands of students were forced to navigate new routes along often unfamiliar and dangerous territory to their “welcoming” schools following a massive shutdown of 50 schools last spring.
Despite an absence of incidents during the Safe Passage hours — they vary by school but begin roughly two hours before schools start and end three hours after the final bell — there have been numerous shootings along the routes in just the past several days.
There were two shootings along Safe Passage routes during the violent three-day Labor Day weekend alone.
The Safe Passage program started in 2009 with 37 schools, most of them high schools, but added 51 new schools after the round of spring closures.
Parents of young students walking the new Safe Passage routes remain split after the first week of school. Susana Salgado, mother of an 8-year-old who attends school on the West Side told NBC Latino the special route isn’t the solution to safety concerns.
“I don’t think this will make much of a difference,” Salgado said. “There’s a worker who is just standing there and not taking care of the children. She’s not even helping them cross the street.”
Rosa Jimenez, a mother of two children attending a CPS school along a Safe Passage route disagreed. “I feel safe. There was nothing like this last year,” Jimenez said, noting she will still be escorting her kids to and from school despite the Safe Passage workers.
The program’s sustainability is a long-term challenge that CPS has, so far, done little to address. The total budget for Safe Passage is $15.7 million and officials said the program will be “reassessed” before the next school year.