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Gang Graffiti, Boarded-Up Buildings Plague Englewood 'Safe Passage' Route

By Josh McGhee | August 9, 2013 1:31pm
 Chicago Public Schools released details Friday about the Safe Passage routes they hope will safely transport 30,000 displaced students to new schools.
CPS Safe Passage Maps
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ENGLEWOOD — Students and parents from the shuttered Bontemps Elementary will soon have a longer walk to school, and some are not thrilled about the "safe passage" route Chicago Public Schools released Friday morning.

The new route for former Bontemps students depends on where kids are coming from, but CPS recommended that students stick to Halsted Street between 58th Street and 63rd Parkway, or 60th Street between Halsted and Racine.

After a spate of shootings earlier this week in the area, parents in the 6000 block of South May Street said no matter which way the kids walk in the neighborhood, it is not safe.

Tiwana Wright, a 29-year-old mother of four, lives off the safe passage route to Bontemps' "welcoming school," Nicholson Technology Academy. Though her kids attend Bass Elementary School, which will stay open, she worries about any kids walking around the area.

Closing schools. Crossing gang turf. A DNAinfo.com interactive map.
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DNAinfo.com Chicago

"I don't think children know the full effect of what's going on in the neighborhood," Wright said. "I think the kids in the neighborhood think it's normal, but it's not. And it's not safe."

On the last day of school for Bontemps in May, parent Ayanna Weekly, 36, said her unfamiliarity with Nicholson and its neighborhood makes her nervous about sending her four kids there.

"I will homeschool my kids before I send them to Nicholson," she said. "That's prime gang territory and I'm not about to endanger my kids' life. I don't know the people at [Nicholson]."

Stephanie Carter lives just blocks from Bontemps, but her two children will soon be walking about a mile to their new school, Nicholson. Carter said she wasn't too upset about Bontemps closing, citing a lack of resources there, but the lengthier commute worries her.

"I'll have to be out there to take them and that's not to say that's safe because anything can happen," she said, adding that abandoned houses and gangways on the new route make her nervous.

"Hopefully there's no gang shootouts," she said.

Gang graffiti and boarded up buildings could be found alongside the "safe passage" signs between Bontemps and Nicholson Friday morning, but CPS officials say they'll do everything in their power to keep kids safe.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she personally walked several Safe Passage routes before the final map was released Friday, and saw "lots that have debris thrown in it...buildings that have been 'Xed' and sidewalks that were cracked, et cetera," she said.

Still, the CEO said, "I did not feel unsafe in the neighborhoods."

"Maybe it's because I had a baseball cap on and jeans and people didn't know who the heck I was, but it didn't disturb me," she said. "But nevertheless I know that this is a concern for our parents. It's a concern for all the adults in the community, and we're going to ensure that those passages are safe for children."