HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A week has been designated to show appreciation for crossing guards. The South Carolina Safe Routes to School program launched the week-long event this year.
When you let your kids walk to school, you want to know they're safe. Many schools in Horry County have crossing guards for extra protection. This week, schools and communities are encouraged to recognize crossing guards and their role in student safety.
According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, since 2008, there have been seven injury accidents in school zones where there's been an officer of crossing guard on duty in both Horry and Florence Counties. That's seven too many. Bear in mind, that not all the crashes mean there was a crossing guard involved. A guard was present at all seven crashes that involved a pedestrian in a school zone. In Horry County, parents are not allowed to direct traffic or help walkers across the street. And teachers and principals can only direct kids and drivers on school property, not on any roads. That's why trained guards and officers are needed in busy school zones.
Carolina Forest Elementary contracts out for a private security guard, Don Farely, to work at their crossing guard every morning and afternoon. His presence is critical in this area, because this area of Carolina Forest Boulevard has extremely heavy traffic and many kids who live in the Canterbury Apartments have to cross the street to get to school. Farely says in the last two years he's been stationed at Carolina Forest, he's seen a world of a difference: fewer accidents and less aggressive drivers.
"They see an individual in a uniform, definitely when they're walking children across, cars tend to not be so anxious to get across the light in the morning when they feel like they're running late. So that crossing guard definitely helps," says Simon Keays, Carolina Forest Elementary School assistant principal.
But the assistant principal for the elementary schools says speeding in the area is still too common. South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers will regularly snag a dozen or so speeders along the boulevard in just one morning. Any time the crossing guard catches someone violating traffic laws, he will take down their license plate number and pass it on. Then troopers will follow up. Private security guards, like Farely who are contracted by schools, do not have any power or authority to fine violators. But they do go through training to protect the kids.
However, in the state of South Carolina, there actually are no rules or regulations when it comes to school crossing guards. Schools in busy traffic areas with a need for a guard have to fend for themselves. So many will also come up with partnerships with the local police department. For example, the Conway Police Department has an agreement to assign an officer every morning and afternoon at three different schools: South Conway Elementary School, Conway High School and Homewood Elementary School.
Conway Police Sgt. D. Alston was a crossing guard for 15 years and now coordinates his officers at these different schools. They will not just help walkers cross the road if needed, they also have authority to direct traffic for car riders and buses, unlike guards who are contracted by schools. The accidents the Conway Police Department have seen in these school zones have tended to be minor fender benders. But Sgt. Alston says that each year for the past five or six years, these crossings are getting more and more intense, because more parents are driving their kids to school instead of letting them take the bus.
"Seeing that blue light and seeing that officer with that stop sign and that uniform reassures the pedestrians as well as the riders that someone is controlling the situation," says Sgt. Alston. "It's very vital. Because without that, everyone does their own thing and they assume they're right. So when you've got a crossing guard and an officer there doing the crossing, there is some control. And someone has control over the situation."
If someone violates a law, speeds or disregards the officer's directions, that officer will not leave to try and track that driver down. But he or she will radio for nearby officers to handle it. Sgt. Alston says they will have no mercy for you if you're caught speeding in a school zone. School zones are 35 miles per hour or below. So your speeding ticket can be anywhere from $180 or more.
The City of Myrtle Beach also has crossing guards for their schools. They are not police officers, but community service officers, who are non-sworn personnel. They are stationed at all Myrtle Beach schools except for the intermediate school, where officers say there is not a need for one.
This is the first ever Crossing Guard Appreciation Week in South Carolina. You're encouraged to recognize the crossing guard at your school and the role he or she has in your child's safety. For creative ideas on how to thank your school's crossing guard, head to the South Carolina Safe Routes to School website: http://www.scsaferoutes.org/events/XGuardApprecationWeek