More than four months after the death of a 14-year-old Cleveland girl abducted on her way to school, the city is introducing Safe Routes to School legislation to help address safety concerns.
Alianna DeFreeze was reported missing after she failed to attend school at E Prep & Village Prep. on Jan. 26. She was last seen exiting an RTA bus at East 93rd Street and Kinsman.
Three days later her body was found in an abandoned home, located at 9412 Fuller Avenue.
In a press conference Thursday, Mayor Frank Jackson announced an ordinance authorizing the Director of Mayor’s Office of Capital Projects to apply for and accept the Safe Routes to School Grant for infrastructure related activities.
Those activities include demolishing abandoned homes within a certain radius of elementary schools in the city.
Jackson announced another ordinance authorizing the Director of the Cleveland Planning Commission to apply for and accept the Safe Routes to School Grant for non-infrastructure related activities.
That announcement includes supporting the work of community members — including a local group of pastors — who escort children as they walk to and from school.
It’s a move that comes too late for community members like Dylan Sellers, a youth outreach worker at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Cleveland.
Sellers has been watching the bus stops at E. 93rd and Kinsman every single school day since Alianna’s body was found. He watches to make sure that no one approaches students as they transfer buses at 6:30am and 2:30pm.
Sellers said he wishes that the city had stepped up to promote these types of community watches sooner.
“It’s May,” Sellers said. “They have maybe five weeks of school left and now we want to talk about their safety, about them getting back and forth to school?”
Sellers is known by police, locals and even the kids on the buses who sometimes wave to him.
“They wave when they walk,” he said. “I don’t want to approach the kids because I don’t want to put them in an awkward position. But they know that I’m there and why I’m here.”
Overall he said he is encouraged that the city is stepping in to help.
“I’m sorry that we dropped the ball on that one as a community,” he said. “But on this corner, at these times, it will be safe for you here.”
The Safe Routes to School Program will be part of a package of legislation that will be sent to the Cleveland City Council on Monday.