SCUGOG: The safety of school children, finances and outdated guidelines were on the menu when Scugog Council met on Monday, June 3. Councillors decided to continue with the proposed removal of school crossing guards from several intersections and school zones at the end of the school year, despite protest from the affected school's principals and parents alike.
The road crossings which are to be removed are at Hwy. 12 in Greenbank; the intersection of Reach St. and Marsh Hill Rd. in Epsom; Reach St. and Simcoe St.; as well as Old Simcoe Rd. and Carlan Dr., with the addition of a prioritized $50,000 sidewalk on the west side of Old Simcoe Rd. at that intersection.
Lunch-hour coverage will cease at Reach St. and Simcoe St., Old Simcoe Rd. and King St., Reach St. and Old Simcoe Rd. and on Old Simcoe Rd. in front of Prince Albert P.S. with morning and afternoon coverage retained.
To improve safety, a second crossing guard will be added at the intersection of Hwy 7A and Simcoe St.
"The crossings have been identified as hazardous by the transit commission and have been recommended to be removed," said Mayor Chuck Mercier. "The purpose of the removal is not solely financial, but also an issue of safety to drivers. This report says that for 10 years this intersection went unnoticed as being too hazardous and that a crossing guard may not be sufficient."
The schools will be implementing bussing of students who live past these hazardous crossings. Crossing guards cost $140,000 last year, these removals will reduce costs to $76,000 annually according to Robin Mills of the RH Cornish SCC.
Despite council's efforts to review the guidelines and practices of school crossing guard rules, the room full of parents did not seem pleased.
"Regardless of whether five kids cross or if 500 kids cross, an accident is an accident and the loss of a child is the loss of a child," said Brad Shearing, principal of SA Cawker P.S. "The crossing guard by Tim Hortons has been hit by a car. If an adult wearing an orange vest with a red sign can be struck, an impulsive child could be hit."
Ward 2 Councillor John Hancock stated that children should be taught safety rules and to not walk while distracted by cell phones or music, a sentiment which drew jeers from the audience.
Sara Harrington, of the SA Cawker P.S. SCC, rebuttled that despite their efforts to teach safety with the DRPS safety village, small children and youth are not the most observant people.
Ward 3 Councillor Jim Howard posed the question of whether or not senior students would be allowed to escort younger children across roads near the school. "It depends what your definition of senior is when dealing with Grade 7 and 8 students," said Shearing. "While they escort around the school property, they are not allowed to cross actual roads or leave the property."
The guidelines regarding what criteria must be met for a crossing to be put in place are outdated and have variables, such as five to 10 children crossing and do not account for poor weather, line-of-sight and five-way intersections such as King St. and Simcoe Rd.
Mayor Mercier attempted to dislodge the apparent wrench in the gears of the Ontario Traffic Manual and the township's school crossing guard guide by opening up dialogue and starting process for a review of the guidelines to take place.
"If we were to design the safest school in the world, would the school which knows the roads and community and drivers handle this issue more internally and directly?" said Mayor Mercier. "Is there a better way to administer this program?" Mayor Mercier suggested that perhaps funding could come from the school board and that those who operate the school would understand what needs to be done for safety more fully.
"We have started an overriding safety discussion," said Mayor Mercier, "we have to continue to improve our guidelines with the help of council, the schools, parents and police. I want to see more communication and integration with the schools and parents who are voicing their concerns so that we can begin work on our safety policies."
Jill Foster, principal of Prince Albert P.S. who stood up in the name of children's safety, took exception to the suggestion that safety should be up to young students themselves.
"The expectation that children who do not have fully developed brains, will be required to carry out split second decisions with their lives on the line is not responsible or very adult."