Chicago Expands Safe Passage

Hannah Jeon, News Editor

In an announcement made on Aug. 28, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn earmarked $10 million in state funding for the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Safe Passage program. As a result of this state investment, Safe Passage, a program that aims to make Chicago school routes safer, has experienced an unprecedented expansion this school year by incorporating 600 new workers and adding 27 new schools to the program.

According to a CPS press release, the Chicago Board of Education voted Sep. 24 to approve this expansion of Safe Passage, thereby allowing the program to benefit an additional 15,000 students. The Board has also approved an additional $1 million funding from the City of Chicago, which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last month. Combined with the city and state investments, the program will add 40 new Safe Passage routes this year, making it a total of 133 routes—triple the number of routes in 2011.

The recent expansion of the Safe Passage program has largely been implemented due to closures of CPS schools that occurred last year. With approximately 50 CPS schools closed down, the school district decided to double the program in the fall of 2013, adding 53 new routes to accommodate nearly 12,000 students transitioning to new schools. These closings, in part, have affected the decision of the state of Illinois to announce the $10 million in new funding, which will come directly from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“With great pressure on its budget, the Chicago Public Schools needed additional funds to hire workers for this essential program,” said Dave Roeder, Communications Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. “With the closing of many Chicago schools, students had to travel unfamiliar routes. This money will help the CPS fund the program on an ongoing basis and expand it.”

With these recent expansions, CPS hopes to continue its success of keeping Chicago school children safe as they commute to school every day. Having qualified, trained staff along each Safe Passage route should minimize any chance of violence or trouble, Roeder said.

“One of the ways Safe Passage workers are able to protect students as they go to and from school is by building relationships with students, families and community members that help them to keep abreast of issues unique to the community they serve,” CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.

According to, the Safe Passage program has led to a 20 percent decline in criminal incidents around the Safe Passage schools, a 27 percent drop in incidents among students and a seven percent increase in attendance over the past two years at high schools that currently have the program in place. As the program secures students’ safety and allows students to concentrate more on their studies, the funding will help Safe Passage continue its documented success in improving attendance and graduation rates, Roeder said.

At Urban Prep Academies, CPS student William Washington has experienced the effects of the program firsthand; he has used the Safe Passage routes in the past in order to commute to school. Although he no longer utilizes these routes, Safe Passage, to him, is a crucial program that ensures the comfort of security. Washington said that the program helps students become safer in terms of getting to school among the gang violence, crime and even issues of bullying that students may potentially face.

“It’s a very serious problem, the violence going on today in Chicago,” Washington said. “[These threats to safety] prevent students from getting an education. When people don’t feel safe, they can’t [focus on school] because of the fears they have.”

Like Roeder, Washington points to the specific improvements in education that Safe Passage can provide to Chicago students. Agreeing that student safety is a foundation for learning, Washington noted that the Safe Passage program can help students receive a better education.

“More students will be able to graduate, with higher attendance rates,” Washington said.

Although CPS student Zoe Davis has not experienced the program firsthand like Washington has—she attends Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, which does not implement any Safe Passage routes—she has noticed some effects of the program from seeing a Safe Passage site in her neighborhood. Though the program may effectively place workers along the routes to help oversee and protect commuting students, Davis noted that it does little to alleviate any dangers that happen outside of school hours.

“If you turn on the news, there’d be stories about gun violence, gangs, kids being caught in drive-bys,” Davis said. “So a lot of these [issues] are what [the Safe Passage is trying to address]. I think having security guards is a good thought to have for protecting kids as they’re walking to school, but if something happens outside of school hours, which it still does, it’s not as helpful.”

Davis also points to the great diversity of the students who attend schools within CPS, which, in serving 400,000 students in 664 schools, is the third-largest school district in the nation. She noted that such a diverse district—in income, race, and other various factors—is often difficult to address entirely in terms of securing safety for all students.

“Feasibly, I don’t know how CPS could come up with a system that could protect everyone,” Davis said. “Safe Passage is mainly targeted towards kids who are walking to school within gang-infested areas, but there are still kids who [could be in danger while traveling in other ways]. So it’s a very broad [demographic] to think about.”

While the overall effectiveness of the Safe Passage program—and its role as a solution to the potential dangers Chicago students face—may be up for debate, there’s one thing most people agree on: that the safety of students, however diverse the school district might be, is fundamental to any school.

“If students are concerned about their safety, it affects their ability to learn,” Roeder said. “Nothing is more important than providing a safe environment both in the schools and the surrounding neighborhoods.”