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Newark Launches 'Safe Passages' Transportation Program for Students

The Newark School District announced Thursday that a shuttle bus service will help some students get to and from school when the district's 'One Newark' plan goes into full swing with school reopening next week.

The One Newark plan creates an open enrollment system for the entire school district, consolidates some schools, and turns others over to charter operators. The lack of attention to transportation was one of the many criticisms leveled against the reorganization plan when it was unveiled last December. Parents were worried about the safety of students, who would now have to crisscross the city to attend new schools.

The Safe Passages program announced today is meant to allay some of those concerns.

Safe Passages sounds very similar to the Chicago program to help monitor students along school routes, often through dangerous neighborhoods, that was expanded after the massive school closures in 2013.

In Newark, the program includes a shuttle bus service that will pick up students at one of eight hubs and drop them off at another. The hubs will be staffed by security guards and teachers' aides. An aide will also accompany students on the bus, monitoring attendance, behavior, and safety, according to the district. The shuttle service will start the first day of school, but eligible students will be able to register throughout September.

The district also released Safe Routes maps (developed in conjunction with the Newark Police Department and the Essex County Sheriff's Office) that show students where crossing guards, police stations, and other resources are located in an effort to help them determine the safest walking routes.

The district will also provide some students with passes for public bus transportation.

The transportation options emerged from collaboration between the school district, parents, the local advisory school board, the community, and law enforcement.

"Throughout the One Newark enrollment process, parents have clearly stated that a major concern is transporting children to and from new school locations,"  said Rashon Hasan, president of the School Advisory Board and co-chair of the Community Review Committee. "We've listened carefully and worked with the district to develop a transportation plan that will help address the needs of families. This is the first time that NPS will be providing transportation services on such a large scale and it's possible to encounter small challenges initially‎. The CRC has paid close attention to family concerns and will continue to do so as the transportation plan is fully implemented.  We ask that the community work together to make this a great experience for our students." 

Newark's initiative came just as Illinois's Gov. Pat Quinn announced that Chicago's very successful Safe Passage program would receive $10 million from the state.

The new funds will allow the district and city to add monitors along 27 additional school routes, increasing the number of Safe Passage schools to 133 and the number of children served by the program to more than 69,000.

With the investment from the city and the governor's support, the city will now boast 1,900 safe passage workers. The program, first launched in 2009, trains workers to act as an "extra set of eyes and ears" to indentify risky behavior and help students get to and from school safely.

The program has led to a 20 percent decline in criminal incidents around Safe Passage schools; a 27 percent drop in incidents among students; and a 7 percent increase in attendance over the past two years in high schools with the Safe Passage program, the governor said in a press release announcing the funds.

"Safe Passage is about more than just building a route to school; it is about building a route to college, career and beyond, so that once our kids get to school, they get the world-class education they deserve," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "Our Safe Passage workers and community members play a critical role to ensure that our children are able to arrive at school each and every day ready to learn and focused on their studies, not their safety."

"Our first priority as a state must be the education and well-being of our children," Governor Quinn said. "As we kick-off a new school year, all students should be focused on their studies - not on their safety - as they walk to and from school. The Safe Passage program has proven to be a successful way to improve attendance, increase safety and boost learning in our classrooms. With this state investment, we can reach even more schools and help ensure safe passage for more students."

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