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Utah crossing guard shortage poses serious safety risk for students

Sep 3, 2023, 2:40 PM | Updated: Nov 3, 2023, 3:53 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Some of the sweetest greetings children hear on their way to school come from the school zone crossing guard. Crossing guards are a critical part of school safety. And Districts across the state are in short supply.

“We still need a crossing guard here at 1750 North,” Elementary Principal, Cassy Saxton, said during school release on Friday. “It’s a great way to help kids feel safe, get to know families and contribute in such a positive way.”

Principal Saxton daily has teachers and aides wearing orange vests and helping children safely exit the North Point Elementary campus.

“We have done so much to have teachers on our grounds outside with their vests on and monitoring,” Principal Saxton said. “But when our students enter the city streets, we worry.”

North Point Elementary has an enrollment of 994 students, whereas nearby schools Liberty Hills and Lehi Elementary, have half that number of students. With declining enrollment and seismic hazards, Lehi Elementary was projected to be permanently closed next school year.

Many of those children, in that boundary, would be bussed to an already bursting North Point Elementary. Superintendent Shane Farnsworth said the rationale for delaying the closure of Lehi Elementary was because of population growth in that area of the district.

“The teachers and administrators are so helpful and caring here,” parent Maria Florez said. “Enrollment keeps growing, street construction is looming and they keep giving and giving. They must be spread so thin, and they remain upbeat and dedicated.”

Director of Operations at the Alpine School District, Eric Woodhouse, noted many parents drive their students because they fear the walking patterns that lead to the school are unsafe. He suggested “walking busses,” which have proven to be successful.

“Walking Busses” is a term for when a trusted adult will walk a large group of students to and from school.

“It’s been incredible to see the effect,” Woodhouse said. “It’s safer, and it reduces congestion. We ask those driving students to be kind and patient. Speeding or being distracted and looking at your phone will never be worth accidentally hitting a child. They are our most prized possessions.”

Christy Renfro has two children who attend North Point Elementary. She recounted how in August 2022 a child was hit by a vehicle with no crossing guard at 1500 north and 2300 west. The child was not seriously injured.

“After that I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable having my children walk by themselves to and from school,” Renfro said. “I want to be another pair of eyes, because this area is so congested. I would be willing to pay higher taxes if it meant raising the paying wages for crossing guards. They are hometown heroes. We need them, and no one seems to be signing up.”

Lehi City lists crossing guard positions in shifts. Guards can take a morning, lunch hour and/or afternoon timeframe. Each shift is 35 – 55 minutes long and pays $15.34 per shift. Applicants are hired through the Lehi Police Department. Applications can be found on the career portion of LCPD’s website.

“This is a service that isn’t just strictly police, district or school – it’s a community issue,” Sgt. Robert Marshall with the Lehi City Police Department said. “Today alone we received 2 -3 callouts for help in crosswalks. We do have to take priority calls first, so it can get complicated.”

Sgt. Marshall referenced the safety hazard it is not having a full staff of crossing guards.

A former crossing guard speaks out

Krysta MacFarlane has three children who attend North Point Elementary. She saw the flyers for needed crossing guards in 2021 and knew she couldn’t complain about safety if she didn’t step up to help. She applied and was stationed at the crosswalk in front of River Rock Elementary School in Lehi.

“Every day I watched drivers blow through the crosswalk at a tremendous speed. I was begging the police to offer more support,” Krysta MacFarlane said. “We were having a huge issue with fast traffic, and there were many days I thought, this isn’t worth my mental health.’ There wasn’t a single day where I didn’t see someone Facetiming on their phone. And it was such an eye-opener: If you want the community to step up and help by being a crossing guard – the community needs to be willing to step up and drive cautiously.”

In 2022 there were several times MacFarlane’s children came home saying they were almost hit in the intersection at 1500 North and 2300 West. MacFarlane requested to move to help cross kids at this traffic signal intersection. During this time, MacFarlane said a Lehi City Truck continuously neglected to pay attention to traffic laws. This driver allegedly was crossing the intersection before students were on the sidewalk and then later ran a red light.

MacFarlane reported the perceived negligent driving to her safety manager.

“There was no help,” MacFarlane said. “There was no accountability. I rallied other crossing guards in January 2023 to attend a City Council Meeting where we asked for more training and police support. Nothing came of that meeting.”

According to MacFarlane, later that year in May, the City employee who had been driving aggressively through MacFarlane’s intersection pulled his truck over while she was working and yelled at her for reporting him.

MacFarlane then resigned from the crossing guard position.

“I begged City Officials for more support, and it never came. I believe in the pioneering spirit here in Lehi; I wanted to give back to my community. But if we are asking stay-at-home moms and senior citizens to walk into crosswalks with a handheld sign and no support – we shouldn’t be surprised when few are rushing to apply. I hope changes can be made because these kids need us to help them stay safe.”

Scheduled construction to further complicate crosswalks

North Point Elementary sits on 2300 West. This soon-to-be main thoroughfare is set to start construction later this school year in the Spring of 2024.

Luke Seegmiller – Lehi City’s Traffic Engineer, said this now two-lane road will expand to five lanes with two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes and one middle median turning lane. It’s uncertain if the construction will first start in front of the elementary school or closer to Main Street. The project will span from 2100 North to Main Street, causing havoc for three schools along its path. North Point Elementary, Ascent Academy and Willowcreek Middle School will all be affected.

“Currently traffic on 2300 West backs up twice a morning in front of the elementary school,” Luke Seegmiller, the Lehi City Traffic Engineer, said. “We will be partnering with UDOT to rework 2100 North and 2300 West. It’s such a troublesome backlog spot in Lehi City.”

To move children smoothly and safely, once construction starts, the crosswalk at 1750 North will disappear.
“We will be adding what we call a Pedestrian H.A.W.K Signal that has smart technology to help move children across 2300 West without creating a traffic delay,” Seegmiller said. “It will be at the south end of the elementary school campus as a permanent fixture.”

 

Due to the shortage of crossing guards and upcoming construction, KSLTV asked if the district was considering a return to a split schedule. Many called this the Early Bird/Later Gator Schedule that minimized traffic flow at the beginning and release of school.

“No. It’s been a huge benefit for our teachers now that they’ve had that extra hour to collaborate during the school day,” Woodhouse said. “That common collaboration time has resulted in a big jump for our reading and academic scores. It would be difficult for us to bounce back to a layered start time.”

District Officials across the state urge those interested to contact their local police departments for more information on how to serve as a crossing guard.

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Utah crossing guard shortage poses serious safety risk for students