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Community groups, school councils to boycott CPS

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Chicago Public School students go back to class in five days, on Monday, Aug. 26. Concerns remain over Safe Passage routes, and community groups plan to take action in a big way.

Many CPS parents have chosen to home school their children or are considering doing so, specifically to keep their kids off of Safe Passage routes.

Former local school council member Irene Robinson is considering the decision to home school her grandchildren this year, because she fears for their safety. She spoke with Good Day on Wednesday about her search for information about how her  grandkids might make the transition from CPS to home schooling, as well as whether this is the best choice for her family.


Illinois does not require that home schoolers be regulated, so it is not possible to provide the total number of parents who are home schooling their kids instead of sending them to Chicago Public Schools. But voluntary registrees have proven that the shift is taking place.

Around a dozen community groups and local school councils will boycott CPS on Wednesday, Aug. 28, which is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Parents, teachers and students also plan to participate.

They say the reason for the boycott is because they feel their voices do not matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Denying children a first-class education submerges them in second-class status."

This statement is part of the foundation upon which these groups built their plan to boycott.

Parents and community organizations are still skeptical as to the efficacy of this program and still question whether the routes will be ready for the first day of the new school year. Many of the same individuals did not agree with the school closings plan before the board voted for its execution.

SEE: CPS community worries Safe Passage isn`t ready for first day

Kenwood Oakland Community Organizer Jitu Brown told Good Day Chicago about the groups' plan to boycott, and why they feel they need to make such a big move to incite change.

"We know the school closings have a long history in Chicago. The failed education policy has hurt our communities. Now we have been hit with this policy that has created massive instability in our communities. I think a prerequisite to safety is stability," Brown said. "Community knows these routes are not safe. I think we need a mayor and a school board that will listen to the voices of the people directly impacted."

Brown also voiced his concern over the feeling that the community's concerns are falling on deaf ears, and that the way CPS is handling things like security right now foreshadows instability in the coming months – after the initial start of school.

"I think the children shouldn't have to go to school behind armed guards. This isn't Arkansas in 1957. Children should be able to go to school in their neighborhoods," Brown said. "The mayor and the appointed school board are creating school deserts in our community. That's why we're serious about an elected school board. We're making an announcement about parents and students to come together to say we're disinvesting in that school board."

Brown said that parents and young people all over the city are saying, "Enough is enough."

"We have gone to the school board meetings, we testified, we developed proposals to try to show how the community wants to improve schools," Brown said. "The district has destabilized our schools. There's no accountability for good schools that have been ruined by school closings. On this day we'll have a show, a collective show of rage and point to every mad parent, every mad student to fight for an elected school board."

Mollison Welcoming School local school council president Jeanette Taylor spoke with Good Day on Wednesday regarding her efforts to make students coming from Overton feel safe and comfortable at their new school. She doesn't believe Safe Passage is ready, especially since her group has not been introduced to the Safe Passage workers.

The Chicago Board of Education voted to go through with the CPS plan to close more than 50 schools and move those students to "welcoming schools" this year. For some students, the route to their new school crosses gang lines and presents dangers they might not have faced before.

The school district revamped the Safe Passage program to combat those dangers and help make the students' walk to school safer. CPS expanded the Safe Passage program to every "welcoming school" because "ensuring that every child has access to a safe and nurturing learning environment is among our top priorities."

But the district said Safe Passage is about more than just a sign that reads "Safe Passage."

"It's a comprehensive strategy that includes tens of thousands of city resources to ensure routes are physically safe while investing in an additional 600 community-based workers who work in hand in hand with the Chicago Police Department and school leadership Monday through Friday as children make their way to and from school," the CPS statement read. "They are also working to develop close relationships with students, parents, principals, residents and businesses along these routes to ensure everyone understands the shared responsibility we all have to ensure our children's safety."

CPS said that over the last two years, Safe Passage high schools have seen an increase in attendance by 7 percentage points, a 20% reduction in reported criminal activity around these routes and 27% fewer incidents involving CPS students.

"The Safe Passage routes are for the protection of our children," CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett told FOX 32 on Tuesday. "We're working closely with the superintendent of police, but we want our families and parents to understand that we will have agencies and police there when our children are coming to and from school."

Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle told FOX 32 that the union believes it to be unfortunate that the decisions made by "Mayor Emanuel's handpicked Board of Education" are forcing kids to walk to school along dangerous routes.

As far as using home schooling as an alternative, the Mayle said the CTU knows parents need to do what they feel is best for their children and that the union understands parents' "frustration regarding a lack of safety in our communities."

"The message from parents has been loud and clear at school closing hearings, monthly school board meetings and in our communities. Parents are rightly concerned about the safety of their children," Mayle said. "The nature of violent crime in Chicago is unpredictable, but we know our students are safe once they arrive in our classrooms. We hope that CPS Safe Passage is enough to get them to school safely. I wish I could say I have more confidence in the district's plans, but I share the concerns of the parents and worry about the safety of our children."

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