ROGERS PARK — At 4:45 a.m., Jumaanee Rogers' 8-year-old stepson isn't savoring his last hour or so of shuteye before another day at school. He is already awake, bundling up to begin the mile trek to his new bus stop.
Earlier this year, without input from or discussion with parents, Chicago Public School leaders changed bus stop locations across the city — a change some Rogers Park parents say have put their children in danger.
The parents say they want their old stop back, and despite repeated attempts to get answers from CPS, their pleas have gone unanswered.
The only notice parent Tiffany Mikell got, she said, was a phone call the day before school started.
Before October, Walt Disney Magnet School students like Rogers' stepson could wait for a bus to pick them up in front of Gale Elementary, 1631 W. Jonquil Terrace, and deliver them to Disney, a more competitive, selective-enrollment school five miles south of Gale.
But in an effort to save money for the cash-strapped school district, dozens of bus stops were nixed or consolidated across the city — including the stop that used to pick kids up at Gale.
That means students and parents must now walk an extra mile to their next-closest stop at Eugene Field Elementary School, 7019 N. Ashland Blvd. Students have to make the extra 30-minute walk from Gale to Field by 6:30 a.m. in order to make their bus.
Rogers said the scaled-back bus routes and extended travel times are "detrimental" to kids and their families and could pose safety risks.
"We have some parents with their children standing outside and nobody's watching them; anything can happen to these children out here."
Not only are the darkness and low temperatures concerns for parents now that their kids' mornings start earlier: They're also concerned about gang lines. Students heading from a home near Howard Street to the bus stop in the Morse area must walk through notorious gang hot spots in the neighborhood, parents say.
Around 6:20 a.m. Thursday, parents gathered outside Eugene Field — at their kids' new bus stop — for a news conference to voice their grievances about what they perceive as a slight from CPS officials.
Carrying signs with messages like "we sent you letters and gave you calls, you gave us no response at all," they encouraged media and passers-by to take note of the conditions just after 6 a.m., when their elementary school-age kids start making their way to their bus stop in front of the school.
Mikell, the mother of a 10-year-old student at Walt Disney Magnet School with special needs, said she's worried about her son's safety both before and after school. She's afraid her son could accidentally get caught in the crosshairs of a dispute between gangs, or be mistakenly targeted.
Mikell and Rogers said they also worry because Gale used to offer students shelter in the early morning, allowing them to wait inside the school for the bus. Though staff is at Eugene Field at the time when students are waiting for their new bus, the two parents said their children are not allowed inside — leaving them to wait on their own in the early hours before school and before sunrise.
"You're gonna allow these children to sit outside in the freezing cold? I feel that's not fair for the children, it's not fair for the parents," Rogers said. "The school is right here; they're still open. There's teachers still inside the school, and they won't let the children inside, even stand inside the doorways."
Rogers' stepson, also a Disney student, doesn't have much time to eat breakfast most mornings these days before he has to hustle off to the stop on Ashland Avenue between Greenleaf and Lunt avenues.
The change in his morning routine has made "a big difference," Rogers said, and not a good one.
Mikell said her son also has some medical issues that make the extra walk arduous, including respiratory problems that make it hard to breathe on the long, cold trip to Eugene Field.
It's frustrating, she said, because she and her son had just reached the point where he could walk to his stop at Gale by himself — giving him a degree of autonomy and independence he appreciated.
"That's all out the window now," Mikell said.
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