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Opinion: Mayor Adams’s Crossing Guard Cuts are Unconscionable

The one thing we can’t do is cut headcount without a workable plan to ensure that our students get to and from school safely.

12:00 AM EDT on June 26, 2023

Images like this remind us of how important crossing guards are. Photo: Bess Adler

Heather Beers-Dimitriadis

The night before Streetsblog reported that Mayor Adams was cutting 500 crossing guard positions, I was attending a Queens Community Board 6 Education/Youth Committee Meeting. That night, the committee heard from a local assistant principal that one of her top concerns was a desperate need for crossing guards. This school is positioned near a busy service road to an even-busier highway. Yet the school has asked year after year for even one crossing guard.

Queens Community District 6 has fewer than five crossing guards for 15 public schools. The local precinct has done its best to allocate the guards that we do have and fill in the gaps where they can, but this is beyond imperfect. And now we have lost the headcount we were all hoping to fill without a plan that addresses all the safety concerns that remain.

In March, 2013, a crossing guard in East Harlem failed to show up for her shift and a 6-year-old boy was killed by a tractor trailer driver one block from his school. Then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly suspended the crossing guard without pay. Yet in 2023, we have eliminated 500 crossing guard positions.

Read our investigation by clicking here.Graphic: Martin Schapiro

In 2014, then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called on the city of New York to use school crossing guards to help senior citizens as well as students. The study had shown that Brooklyn was among the highest in senior pedestrian fatality rates. That decision was driven by data, by fact, by a study. This decision to cut crossing guard slots has been made without data, without facts, and worst of all, without a plan to ensure the safety of student, so many of whom get to and from school on foot — on roadways that Streetsblog has shown are far more dangerous than non-school streets.

“We cannot remove our seniors from the vision of protecting our street and our citizens from vehicle traffic,” Adams said at the time.

By failing to release a plan that ensures that our children get to and from school unharmed, Adams has, in a sense, removed school-aged children from the Vision Zero policy. The mayor’s 2022 pledge to redesign 1,000 intersections will go a long way to ensure safety for all pedestrians. Now, imagine if those intersections had strategically placed crossing guards.

It is a lack of political will to cut 500 crossing guard positions, but it is also a lack of imagination. Year after year, Community Board 6 asks for more crossing guards only to be told, “The agency has stated that they will try to accommodate this request with existing resources.” When you spoke with the “agency” they would say, “It is a hard job to fill,” or “No one wants it.” So you would think that after years, maybe decades of this someone would have realized the model is broken.

One of the first things that could be done is to address the number of elementary school walkers without putting them in cars. Currently, the Office of Pupil Transportation has a yellow bus eligibility policy that ages most students out of eligibility in the third grade. Many families find themselves with one bus-eligible child and one bus-ineligible child. Some families will then drive their children or have the older and younger child walk together without adult supervision to school. This policy puts more cars on the road and more children on the street without adult supervision. Extending the eligibility throughout the students entire primary school career would go a long way to getting kids and cars off the street during high traffic commutes.

The second thing that must be done is to reimagine how we keep children safe in and out of school. Traffic management outside and inside of schools is a concern, especially in our overcrowded schools. The city should explore creating a hybrid role that combines the responsibilities of a crossing guard with the responsibilities of school aid who monitors lunchtime and recess time. This creates a full-time job with benefits. Or the city could redesign the responsibilities of the School Safety Team to include the duties of the crossing guard. Maybe even consider rotating those duties between the officers.

The one thing we can’t do is cut headcount without a workable plan to ensure that our students get to and from school safely.

With still a few days to go before the midpoint of the year, 18 cyclists and 44 pedestrians have been killed in traffic crashes, higher than the Vision Zero-era average for the same period. The timing of the decision to cut crossing guard positions could not be worse. It is my hope, and, indeed every parent and every school administrator's hope, that a solution is forthcoming for the 2023-2024 school year.

Heather Beers-Dimitriadis is currently the Chair of Queens Community Board 6. She is the mother to twin 16-year olds, and serves on the Participatory Budget Advisory Group to the Civic Engagement Commission.

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