Public board addresses student safety

Student safety was the primary concern at the Rainy River District School Board meeting last Wednesday night, the first meeting of the 2005/06 school year.
Trustees discussed the construction at Highway 11 and Keating Avenue and how it affects students walking to and from J.W. Walker School.
“We recognize there has been a tremendous amount of concern,” said Superintendent of Business Laura Mills.
The board has hired an additional bus to pick up and drop off students who would normally walk to school through that intersection, she noted.
Trustee Martin Darrah expressed concern for the school buses that have to turn at that intersection. Because the lanes of traffic have been reduced, long buses have less room to maneuver around the corner.
“You have to go into the oncoming lane,” he noted.
Mills noted the board had opened the gate on Parker Avenue between Walker and Fort Frances High School on the first day of school so buses could avoid the intersection altogether.
The gate had to be monitored to make sure only buses used the avenue, and not parents and students in vehicles.
“We have a great concern with opening that gate,” she said, noting the traffic can be dangerous to small children at Walker.
Despite having the alternate route, Mills said many of the bus drivers drove through the Highway 11-Keating intersection, rather than making use of the avenue.
“I did go and observe so I could get a real feel for what was happening there,” she said. “Based on what I had observed, we decided to discontinue opening the gate.”
The buses who opted to take the route through the construction appeared to have no difficulty making the corner, she added.
Darrah suggested the bus drivers may not have been aware there was an alternative.
The board agreed to contact the bus drivers and operators and ask them what their preference is in terms of safety.
Education Director Warren Hoshizaki said they would also consider approaching the town and asking if the operable lanes could be widened to help accommodate the buses.
Construction is expected to be completed by mid- to late-October.
While discussing the issue of student safety, the question of crossing guards also came up.
The board received a letter in July from council with a report from the Planning and Development executive committee (PDEC).
The report said the committee considered the option of hiring a crossing guard at the corner in question, but that it “[did] not see this as a viable solution, as to employ two systems of traffic control at one location would tend to be confusing to vehicular as well as pedestrian traffic.”
The report went on to say that Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft asked all parents of children attending school within the town to contact him or the town office with their concerns regarding crossing guards.
“No calls or expressions of concern have been received. However, Councillor Wiedenhoeft did receive three calls of concern regarding the safe crossing of children at the intersection of Kings Highway and Keating Avenue,” the report read.
“I find it a little bit hard to believe only three parents are concerned about their children at that intersection,” said board chair Dan Belluz.
“We have had a number of telephone calls from parents,” Mills said. “There is a high level of concern. We have instructed them to contact their town council on the matter of a crossing guard.”
In January, the town sent a letter to the board asking them to consider a partnership. The board declined, citing the Municipal Act which states it is the responsibility of municipalities to provide crossing guards.
“A school board cannot hire a crossing guard because we cannot provide insurance for that crossing guard,” Mills explained.
The report also states that the PDEC members “continue to be concerned regarding the safety of children but are of the opinion that the responsibility of the safe passage of children to and from school is primarily that of the parents and secondarily that of the school board.”
“He mentions no liability of the town at all,” Belluz noted.
“Isn’t there a way of gently, kindly reminding them it’s their responsibility to look after the safety of all citizens of the town, regardless of age?” asked trustee Gord McBride.
“If we were so unfortunate as to have an accident, I would not want to see two publicly elected bodies fighting over whose fault it was,” he added.
The board agreed to draft a response to the town’s letter.