NEWS- <i>Don't</i> walk: Buses replace guards at Hollymead
Albemarle County has long extolled the pedestrian-friendly walkability of its neighborhood model. That's why some parents of Hollymead Elementary students are flummoxed that the school has just yanked its crossing guards from in front of the building to be replaced by buses– even for students who live across the street from the school.
Marty Moore lives on Tinkers Cove, six houses away from the school, and walks her 9-year-old-daughter to and from each day. "They said they'd give us a bus," she says. "It's kind of silly. We're one of the few neighborhood schools where kids walk."
Last week Hollymead Elementary students came home with a letter from principal Carol Hastings explaining the decision. The letter claims that Albemarle police have declared it illegal for anyone other than a uniformed officer to direct traffic.
"I couldn't believe the police said something so ridiculous," says Hollymead parent Tim Grable.
Certain standards have to be met for a person to direct traffic on a public street or highway, says Lieutenant John Teixeira with the Albemarle police. The crosswalk has to be marked, and the crossing guard has to be trained, in uniform, and outfitted with the right equipment.
Apparently the orange-vest-wearing teachers holding a stop sign on Powell Creek Drive, who have been manning the school's crosswalk for years, don't meet the stiff standards. But Teixeira denies that police are the heavies in preventing kiddies from walking.
"We responded to an inquiry from the school division– not just Hollymead," he says. "There wasn't any egregious situation."
Except, perhaps, for the dangers of crossing the street at the school. As Powell Creek Drive has become an alternative to U.S. Route 29 over the past few years, traffic on the road in front of the school has increased, despite speed humps and a traffic circle.
"It's very dangerous," says Moore, whose daughter was almost hit last week and who says a crossing guard was "nipped" by a car last year. "The traffic is definitely getting worse."
Ken Boyd, chairman of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, is caught off guard by the situation. "Not only is it against what we're trying to do with the neighborhood model and walkability," he says, but he cites health issues as well, and the importance of encouraging exercise among America's increasingly obese youth.
"If it's a matter of training, we ought to see that they get it, rather than the [bus] option," he adds. "I can't imagine it would take that much training to be a crossing guard." Boyd says he'll be looking into the "disconcerting" situation.
Albemarle schools spokeswoman Christy Sinatra reports, meanwhile, that the police department will provide a training program for crossing guards– this summer.