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School Closing Opponents Stage Protest Walks On West Side

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Parents upset with the Emanuel administration's plan to close 53 public schools at the end of the school year took their anger to the streets Tuesday in the East Garfield Park neighborhood.

In their words, they "walked the walk," as they traveled some of the routes their children would have to take to get to new schools after they are transferred in the fall.

CBS 2's Kris Gutierrez reports one of the schools on the list for closure is William H. King Elementary School at 740 S. Campbell Ave. Under the Chicago Public Schools' closings plan, students there would be sent to Jensen Elementary Scholastic Academy about eight blocks away.

School Closing Opponents Stage Protest Walks On West Side

They also planned a later protest walk from Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy, 3600 W. 5th Ave., to Charles Sumner Math & Science Community Academy, at 4320 W. 5th Ave. Ericson is targeted for closure, and students there would be sent to Sumner.

Many parents at King said they're upset with the plan to close their school, because they believe the eight block walk between King and Jensen is too dangerous for their kids.

They walked the route past several boarded-up buildings and homes.

Lakecha Green said, if King closes, her son would be subjected to the dangers of street gangs. She also expressed optimism CPS officials and the Chicago Board of Education would decide not to close King.

"I don't want my boys to walk through violence, I don't want them to walk through the gangs," Green said. "My son is 11, and 11 is when they start their gang recruitment. I don't want my son to have to endure that. I walk them to school now, and I live across the street. And I would be willing to walk them there, but we're not going to have to walk there, because they're not going to close the school."

Last week, opponents of the school closings plan invited Mayor Rahm Emanuel to "walk the walk" and join them as they walk such routes twice each Tuesday for the next several weeks. Emanuel's office said the invitation was shared with the mayor, but there has been no word on whether he plans to accept.

However, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett walked a different "Safe Passage" route to Fenger High School, along with four students who use the route every day, so show the efforts the city and district have made to help kids get to school safely in neighborhoods where gangs are a problem.

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the safe passage program, now in place in 35 Chicago public schools, has solved some of the problems plaguing schools in bad areas, and will be expanded to include all 53 schools giving kids a safe route to their new schools.

"There is nothing more important than the safety of our young people," said Byrd Bennett.

The district has said it is working with Chicago Police to design similar safe routes for students at schools targeted for closing, so they can safely attend their new schools.

CPS officials have said they need to close 53 schools and 61 school buildings as they face a projected $1 billion budget. They said the schools targeted for closing are under-utilized, and the district has said money saved by closing those schools will be used to improve so-called "welcoming schools" where students are transferred.

The Chicago Board of Education must sign off on the proposed school closings. Public hearings on the proposed closings will be held before a final vote by the board late next month.

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