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Chicago's Plans for 'Safe Passage' in Demand After School Closures

In preparation for the shutdown of nearly 50 elementary schools and a massive reassignment of students, Chicago education officials say they have already responded to more than 11,000 requests from parents seeking assistance in getting their children safely to their new schools next fall.

School and city officials announced a slate of services they've already tackled, many of them at parents' requests, to ease the transition to the new schools: Towing abandoned cars, removing graffiti, trimming trees, mowing vacant lots, repairing broken street lights, and rodent abatement.

The district next month will hire some 600 adults to staff the "safe passage" routes that are still being finalized with the input of parents and community members, officials said. But on the same day, city education officials also announced a fresh round of budget cuts that they say mostly will affect the central office and district operations, such as custodial services, though of the 850 layoff notices that followed that announcement, 550 of them were for teachers, many of whom worked in schools that are closing.

Student safety was one of the fiercest objections that parents and community members cited for months to the closure of 49 elementary schools. In response, the district devised its "safe passages" program to help assuage fears about students having to travel through gang turf to get to their new schools. Leaders in the 403,000-student school system, overseen by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said shutting down low-performing, underutilized schools was necessary for addressing an expected $1 billion budget deficit.

City police said they have finished their first round of assessments and have attended parent meetings to help inform them as they develop the safe passage routes for each new school community.

The city, which has been racked by gun violence in recent years, has so far this year seen its homicide rate go down compared with 2012. But on Saturday and Sunday, at least six people were shot and killed, while more than 30 others were shot and wounded, according to local media accounts.

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