GREATER GRAND CROSSING — A new practice field at a South Side school was dedicated Friday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel but the football team won't be practicing there during afternoons.
The principal moved the sessions to mornings following a high-profile killing near the school.
Kesa Thurman, principal of Dulles School of Excellence, 6311 S. Calumet Ave., moved the practice sessions to 7 a.m. out of safety concerns, said Shana Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which has run Dulles since 2009.
The session change for the Dulles Tigers team came after a gang member was killed near the school, which educates children pre-K through 8th grade, said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th.)
A makeshift memorial was held last week and the man's funeral is slated for this weekend, according to several residents.
At the memorial "everybody was out here [by the school] drinking, getting rowdy, mourning his loss, I guess," said Marsha Scott, 24, whose son attends Dulles.
"When his funeral comes, there will probably be a lot of people out there."
Thurman last Friday sent a notice to teachers to asking them to vacate school grounds as soon after classes wrap at 3:30 p.m., the Sun-Times first reported.
"We wanted a safe and efficient dismissal," Hayes said.
“The two most important doors a child walks through for their future is the front door of the home and the front door of the school," Emanuel said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "Today we’re bringing both of those together and making sure our kids have a bright future.”
The mayor left the school without answering questions from the media.
Despite several media reports that after-school programming had been cut at Dulles, Hayes said "nothing has been canceled." Most programs don't even start until October, she said, and Thurman is expected to lift the quick dismissal policy next week once the commotion wanes.
Several parents on Friday said Thurman overreacted.
"Nobody's really out here" when the kids get out of school, Scott said, adding that a rougher crowd doesn't appear until later in the evening. "Why build [the playground] if you can’t use it? The kids need something to do, and that field is great.”
"The principal isn’t from here, so she doesn’t really know," said Tueshanda Webster, 26, whose son is in second grade. "These teachers don't live here. They work here and they're gone."
Webster questioned how efficient the football players could be "before they've even eaten breakfast."
Cochran said Thurman had a right to make the call to send students home right after school — but he would have made a different call.
"The violence is taking place less than 200 yards from where I’m standing now," Cochran said at the school Friday. "I would have some concerns, too. [Thurman is] a leader who’s made a decision to send the children home right away. Another leader may have made the decision to keep the children in past that time."
However, Cochran added, "If I was making the decision, I would like to keep them inside."
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, football players and cheerleaders gathered as Thurman said she was grateful for the "field of dreams."
"Our students now have the luxury of playing out here on a soft surface — not one that skins up their knees every time they fall on the play lot having fun," she said.
Armond Head, 31, who has four kids in Dulles, said local children desperately needed the new playground and field.
"With all the negativity [in the neighborhood], the kids need something positive to take their minds off it," Head said. "They're full of energy. They want something to do."