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Chicago school closings have parents worried about safety

(CBS News) CHICAGO - Street violence is among the many concerns Chicago parents have as their children are forced to move to new schools. It's part of one of the biggest mass closing of public schools in American history.

At the Courtenay Elementary School on Chicago's north side, Sonnie Atwood is eagerly anticipating the move her son, River, is making to a school five blocks away.

"Change is part of life and sometimes it happens out of nowhere like this and ... you have to be resilient," she said.

Courtenay is one of 49 public schools on the closure list.

Sonnie Atwood
Sonnie Atwood CBS News

"We have to fix our schools and in order to do that, we cannot continue to operate when we have too many schools for the number of students we have," said Andrea Zopp of the Chicago Board of Education.

The board says Chicago has 145,000 fewer school-age children than it did in 2000, though the number is in dispute. Combine that with a billion-dollar school budget deficit, and cutting some schools made sense to city officials.

Chicago is not alone. Philadelphia is closing 23 schools. Washington, D.C. is closing 15.

"If I had to live in a neighborhood where I had to worry about my child's safety when he was going to school, I would probably have a very different perspective," Atwood said.

Jeanette Taylor
Jeanette Taylor CBS News

Jeanette Taylor fits that description. She lives on the south side in an area terrorized by armed gangs, where she says walking a few extra blocks can be treacherous for students going to a different school.

"You walk through three gang lines. You walk through dope lines. It's prostitution lane. You have four people that just got shot on 47th street under the EL yesterday," she said.

She said someone is "most definitely" going to get hurt.

"Not a doubt in my mind somebody is going to get hurt," she said.

So far, parents and teachers have filed two lawsuits in federal court to block the closures and a judge has set a hearing in July to hear their arguments.

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