Neighbors escort pupils back-to-school in troubled
Photo(s) by Gregory
By Pat Murphy
August 31, 2006
Adults cocooned Lower Haight children back-to-school Monday
as many pupils crossed gang turf boundaries for the first time
to attend John Muir Elementary School.
Closure of John Swett Elementary School sent former Swett students
to Muir, a decision last spring based on insufficient state funding
due to low enrollment.
The prospect of children crossing gang territories in a violence
ravaged neighborhood frightened and angered parents when the decision
to close John Swett was announced.
Over the summer they organized for arrival of the first school
day, and Monday positioned themselves where gang members and drug
dealers ply recruitment - the bus stop where many pupils arrive
for school at Haight and Webster Streets.
"We all celebrated back-to-school with our neighborhood
children on the two worst blocks of the lower Haight neighborhood
-- the 300 and 400 blocks of Haight Street," Vallie Brown
of the Lower Haight Neighborhood Organization told the Sentinel.
"These two blocks have been claimed by drug
dealers and users for decades," said Brown.
"Unfortunately, these are also the two blocks our neighborhood
children have to walk through to catch buses to go to schools
all over the City or to walk to John Muir Elementary.
"The neighborhood took back the blocks for our children
for at least one morning.. it's a start."
Participating groups included the John Muir PTA, the Lower Haight
Neighborhood Association, the District 5 School Community Network,
the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, the Hayes Valley Safety
Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Bevan Dufty helped coordinate
Dufty represents the District 8 lower portion of Hayes Valley
in which John Swell Elementary School is location. District 5
represented by Mirkarimi is home to John Muir Elementary School.
Bevan Dufty, left, with Ross Mirkarimi
Gail Baugh of the newly formed Muir PTA led neighbors in walking
children to Muir. Merchants provided school supplies and served
apples, juice, and oatmeal muffins. Starbucks donated coffee for
Swett closure and continuing violence roused neighbors to form
the escort, Mirkarimi told the Sentinel.
"It's a response to the constellation of school closures
and the crime in the area where my office, partnering with a number
of community organizations, wanted to make sure that we reclaim
our streets, that we have a safe environment for our children,"
"We are launching this program starting today with the first
day of school where we will make sure that there will be new neighborhood
watch programs in the Lower Haight-Western Addition vicinity.
"Especially making sure that our young are not feeling unsafe
or that crime impedes their ability to go to and from school.
"It's important to all of us that the future of San Francisco
is protected, making sure that our youth... are not compromised
by any breach of safety."
Police Chief Heather Fong, Police Kevin Captain Dillon, Daniel
Homsey of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services participated
with approximately 100 residents.
"It was good to have the Mayor's Office, Neighborhood Services,
Police Chief Fong and her command staff there," Mirkarimi
He asserted that neighbors planned for public safely where the
School District had not.
"That was one of the prevailing concerns that we had about
the whole school closure process," continued Mirkarimi.
"There was no public safety plan that came out of the process
so our office, in concert with a number of community partners,
put a public safety plan in place."