Deadly dismissals

Students marched to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall office on March 25 to protest the proposed Chicago Public Schools closings. Photo by Jonathan Gibby.

Students marched to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall office on March 25 to protest the proposed Chicago Public Schools closings. Photo by Jonathan Gibby.

Lametrios West has made a point to separate himself from the trouble around him. Despite heavy rain and steady cracks of lightning, the 14-year-old Kershaw Elementary School student made his way on a recent afternoon to the nearby Teamwork Englewood, a community organization whose after-school programs draw boys and girls from the surrounding area. Here, he holes up to “get out of the neighborhood.”

Staying out of trouble means closing himself off from the outside world. “It’s hard, but I can do it,” he says. “By staying in the house, going to school, coming here. The only areas where I go is where I know people.”

That’s going to be more difficult for young people like Lametrios this fall, as neighborhoods throughout Chicago experience a massive reshuffling of students under a plan by Chicago Public Schools to shut 50 schools citywide.

In Englewood and West Englewood alone, six schools will close, meaning many students will have to travel across unfamiliar turf in the next school year.

The danger Lametrios is trying to elude is grave. Nearly half of the 1,054 youths murdered in Chicago during the past five years were killed within the attendance boundaries of the 54 schools that in March were initially slated for closure. In all, the census tracts within these boundaries cover about a quarter of the city. Among the closing schools, West Englewood’s Elaine O. Goodlow had the highest number of young people killed within its boundary, with 37 overall. To the Southeast, John P. Altgeld isn’t far behind, with 34 youth homicides.

Within this environment, young people have taken to forming cliques along neighborhood lines. The block where Lametrios lives, at West 64th Street and South Lowe Avenue, falls under the umbrella of the Black Disciples gang. It is also run by a clique called “Lowe Life”—what his Teamwork Englewood mentor Michael Tidmore calls “a gang within a gang.”

Lametrios has some friends active in Lowe Life. “They be doing dumb stuff, so I don’t like to be around them ’cause they do things I don’t want to do,” he says.

But as Tidmore explains, despite his best efforts, Lametrios faces the constant possibility of being indicted by geography. He lives on Lowe, meaning he represents his street and, to some degree, its gang.

Tidmore presents Lametrios with a hypothetical scenario in which the youngster heads toward Paul Robeson High School, just one block to the southeast. “Would those guys on Parnell [Avenue, one block east] connect you to Lowe Life?” Lametrios nods matter-of-factly. “Even though they might know [Lametrios is] not a part of that, just because he lives on Lowe, if they do something to him, it’s like they did something to all of Lowe,” Tidmore explains.

On a map, it seems what CPS is doing is straightforward enough. The receiving schools are all near those that are closing. But in neighborhoods like Englewood, crossing from one block to another can mean entering enemy turf.

In response to safety concerns, CPS has proposed measures to address potential issues. Its Safe Passage program, which stations adults along routes that students take to school to oversee their safety, has been budgeted a nearly $8 million increase in funding next year.

It will be implemented at all of the receiving schools. CPS has also said it will bus some affected students if their former school is more than 0.8 miles from the new location.

Back at the Teamwork Englewood headquarters, Lametrios zips up his hoodie and prepares to leave. Like a typical teenager, he plans to spend his evening at home playing video games. But he isn’t your average middle-schooler. Fitting in with the in-crowd has no draw for him.

“I don’t want to end up dead. I wanna do something positive with my life,” he says.

This fall, Lametrios will remain at Kershaw for his eighth grade year. Elsewhere throughout Englewood, students from formerly separate schools will be attending a merged school.

Lametrios says if he were one of them, he’d be worried. “You could just be in the wrong place.”

Angela Caputo helped research this article.

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