School crossing guards fill a rewarding, dangerous job
February 5, 2017
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It's 7:15 a.m. on a morning when the weather is cold enough to quickly cause hypothermia or frostbite, and Katrina Deans is stationed at her corner.
For the next hour, she'll keep an eagle-eyed focus on the north-central intersection that's under her care.
Wearing three layers of clothing, gloves, a beanie, a reflective vest and a chirpy smile, Deans is the first adult children encounter on their way to Fremont Elementary School in Colorado Springs School District 11.
"Good morning! Have a nice day!" she calls out to youngsters and parents alike. She takes a sip of her tea, which goes from steaming to lukewarm in minutes.
"It's not a bad gig," she says.
Despite the weather fluctuations, the huge responsibility and the sidestep dance with vehicles, being a school crossing guard is fun and rewarding, Deans says. It's better than working at a fast-food restaurant, or as a nurse aide, her previous jobs. The job pays about $10 an hour, she says.
"I like doing it — it's good to protect the kids," Deans says. "I get to know the parents and the kids, and they thank me."
But sometimes it can be an unappreciated duty, reported The Gazette.
Drivers are 'so disrespectful'
"It's one of the most dangerous jobs," says Nathan Thompson, fifth-grade teacher at Pikes Peak Elementary School in Harrison School District 2.
He said drivers have tried to purposely run him over when he's filled in as a crossing guard.
"People are so disrespectful and don't listen to you," Thompson said, adding he's "had to hit car windows" to get people to pay attention to his commands.
Even when crossing guards are on their toes stopping traffic to let pedestrians safely traverse from one sidewalk to the next, tragedies happen.
In January, four children were struck and pinned underneath a vehicle by a driver making a right turn onto Chelton Road from Pikes Peak Avenue, in front of James Monroe Elementary School in D-11.
The students were crossing the street under the direction of a crossing guard. All were hurt but have been released from the hospital and returned to school, said D-11 spokeswoman Devra Ashby.
Neither the crossing guard nor the principal wanted to be interviewed.
The intersection is "well designed," said Kathleen Krager, transportation manager for the Colorado Springs Public Works Department.
So the city won't be making changes, she said.
The intersection is "highly marked for schools," Krager said, with flashing yellow lights on signs. It's also in a school zone where the speed limit is restricted to 20 mph and has crossing guards, she noted.
"Believe it or not, some accidents are not the fault of design or lack of signing, which is the case here," Krager said. "Some accidents are the fault of the driver, and no amount of design will overcome driving mistakes. I shouldn't have to ask a driver to pay attention to four pedestrians in a crosswalk."
Any charges against the male driver are pending, based on the outcome of a toxicology report, which takes two to four weeks, said Lt. Howard Black, Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman. Police also are looking for video anyone may have taken before, during or after the accident, which happened on Jan. 12.
D-11 is re-evaluating the crossing for safety considerations, Ashby said, adding "Even though this was a driver error."
The intersection has three crossing guards, she said.
"The D-11 Risk Management office keeps records on all incidents that are reported and work with law enforcement and local entities to discuss safety matters and work to improve precaution," she said.
A hard job to fill
Districts are allowed to set up their protocol as far as using crossing guards to assist students in their journey to and home from school.
D-11 has crossing guards at 27 of its 33 elementary schools, Ashby said. Chipeta Elementary doesn't, for example, because it has a designated stoplight for pedestrians, she said. Galileo is the only D-11 middle school that has crossing guards, and none of its high schools do.
Crossing guards are district employees, Ashby said, but 80 percent of their pay is funded by the city of Colorado Springs and 20 percent by the school district.
It's not a law that schools have crossing guards, said Sean Goings, a retired police officer who works as the safety and security coordinator for Woodland Park School District RE-2.
"It falls back onto liability of the schools," he said, "which have a duty to protect the kids from doorstep to doorstep."
RE-2 employs 12 crossing guards for its five schools and uses a training program from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Workers have to pass a test and also take first aid and CPR training.
There hasn't been an accident involving a student and a driver in at least 15 years, Goings said.
During foggy, snowy or rainy weather, some RE-2 crossing guards use paddles with flashing lights for enhanced visibility.
"It's a hard job to fill," Goings said. "It's just a couple of hours a day, and the pay's not that great, so a lot of our crossing guards are also teachers or paraeducators or lunch monitors."
Goings wasn't surprised to hear about the accident at Monroe Elementary, his alma mater, where he attended fifth and sixth grade.
"That's always been a busy street," he said. "You really had to mind your P's and Q's when crossing there. And these kids got hit even with a crossing guard. You feel such remorse. You don't ever want to see kids get hurt."
'They protect us'
Another child, a 9-year-old girl, was hit and killed by a car in January in Colorado Springs. It was night, she wasn't on her way to school, but the incident hit close to home for Deans, the crossing guard at Fremont Elementary. She said she was struck by a car one night when she was 14 years old and suffered serious injuries, including a fractured skull. It's one of the reasons she wanted to become a crossing guard.
"A lot of people are in a rush," she said. "Some people's time is a little more important, I guess."
She said she's stood in the path of oncoming cars, to get them to slow down or stop completely at her intersection.
More so in the afternoon than the morning because students arrive at different times in the morning, but everybody gets out at the same time.
"I've almost had kids get hit three times in the afternoon," said Deans, who's been doing the job for two years.
Sometimes, she shakes her reflective vest and the stop sign she carries at drivers who keep inching forward, eager to be on their way.
Fifth-graders in Thompson's class at Pikes Peak Elementary who walk to school say they like crossing guards.
"They protect us," said 10-year-old Elijah Montano.
"They must really appreciate kids to protect them like that," said student Christian Andrews, who walks nearly a mile to school every day.
"They're happy about helping us," said 10-year-old Lisa Gitau.
Christian said he saw a younger kid almost get hit by a car last year.
"He wasn't paying attention. He ran across the street, and a car was speeding," Christian said. "I was super scared for him."
Eight kids hit in six weeks
In the case of auto/pedestrian accidents, fault lies with a combination of drivers and children, said Laura Kent, the coordinator of Safe Kids Coalition for Colorado Springs.
Kids run into traffic because under age 10, they don't have peripheral vision, Kent said. And drivers are often distracted with food or their cellphones and don't make sure the road is clear and free of pedestrians, she said.
Her organization, operated through Children's Hospital Colorado, does a host of safety programs, including car seat checkups, bike safety instruction, seatbelt awareness and sports safety clinics.
It hadn't focused on pedestrian safety until eight children were hit in a six-week period last February.
"We thought, 'What's going on?'" Kent said.
The organization conducted a study, looking at how many pedestrians were hit in Colorado Springs in the six-month period of Jan. 1 to June 30, 2016.
The survey tracked 911 calls and responses from AMR, the ambulance service in Colorado Springs for which Kent also works as a paramedic.
In that six-month period, AMR responded to 120 auto/pedestrian calls in Colorado Springs, with 18 percent — or 22 of the crashes — involving children.
The average age of the children hit was 12 years old, Kent said. Half of the children were struck by a vehicle in the 80909 ZIP code and 30 percent in the 80910 ZIP code.
Those cover both Colorado Springs D-11 and Harrison D-2, the region's most inner-city school districts.
Further studies at two middle schools and two high schools in different parts of the city yielded this conclusion: "What we were seeing was the same as far as habits of drivers not stopping at red lights to turn, which unfortunately is when kids have the green light to cross," Kent said.
"Pedestrians think because they have the green walk sign, they can step off the curb. You still have to look left, then right, then left again."
Walkers also should always cross at corners, make eye contact with the driver, wave to make sure they're seen and then cross, Kent advises.
Grant money is funding a pedestrian safety education program in local schools. Kent is setting up appointments. Find out more at safekids.org.
There were 3,187 child deaths from car crashes nationwide in 2014, according to Safe Kids.
In Colorado Springs, children are hit every year, said Lt. Black.
"Colorado Springs police strongly encourages our citizens to really pay attention when they're driving in school zones, always remembering that children can just dart out in front of a car," he said.
"Pay attention to those in the crosswalks, and obey those signs. Stay off your cellphones, particularly in school zones."
Information from: The Gazette, Gazette.com