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Chicago school tweaks dismissals for extra safety

Published: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 7:55 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Shootings near a Chicago elementary school and worries that a gang member's funeral might mean more violence prompted officials last week to take the unusual step of rushing students and staff off the property as soon as classes ended for five straight days.

The procedure, called "efficient dismissal," comes amid concerns about the safety of thousands of children who are attending new schools after dozens were shut down in June. Many students have to walk farther and in some cases cross gang boundaries to get to their new schools.

A spokeswoman for the group that runs Dulles School of Excellence, which took in nearly 200 new students this year, said on Friday that there were no problems since efficient dismissal was put in place last week. She said operations at the South Side school were back to normal on Friday – with the exception of the continued scheduling of football practice before school rather than after school.

"We did this to encourage kids and staff to be safe," said Shana Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, which has been running the school in the Woodlawn neighborhood since 2009. She said the procedure was initiated after discussions with Safe Passage, a program that stations hundreds of workers along designated routes to schools, including Dulles, that took in students from the nearly 50 schools that were shuttered.

The procedure, first reported in Friday's Chicago Sun-Times, helped turn Mayor Rahm Emanuel's appearance Friday morning for a ribbon-cutting at a new playground at Dulles into a much larger media event than it might have otherwise been. Emanuel did not talk to the media before or after the ceremony. But Alderman Willie Cochran, whose ward includes the school, said the shootings and the funeral of a gang member last Friday justified the step taken by the principal, Kesa Thurman, and Safe Passage.

"The violence has been taking place less than 200 yards from where I'm standing at now, so I would have some concerns, too, about my children," said Cochran.

Thurman did not talk to reporters before or after the ceremony, but several parents who attended said that while they had not heard of the school rushing children and staff in and out of the building, they agreed with the decision to do so.

"If she [Thurman] is doing that, then she's doing a good job," said Shontae Mickey, who has two children at the school. "If [children] are ... around here doing nothing, they're going to get shot for no apparent reason."

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