Do coverage gaps put kids at risk?

Now that school is in session, safety controversies involving several Kearny public schools got a public airing at last week’s council meeting.

Councilman Rich Konopka got the ball rolling when he reported a disturbing discovery following a recent tour of the newly opened Hudson Arts & Science Charter School on Midland Ave.

“Parents were complaining to a crossing guard,” he said, about having to move their cars from safety zones. And, he added, “I couldn’t believe people wouldn’t come to a full stop in the crosswalk (at Midland and Beech St.).”

Because opening and dismissal times are not uniform among the various schools in the largely Fourth Ward section of town, the Kearny Police Department has had to adjust schedules of nine crossing guards to provide coverage as best as possible.

But some parents fear that coverage gaps are exposing children to potential risks negotiating vehicular traffic while crossing busy streets.

Judy Hyde, head of the Town-Wide Parent Teacher Association, told the mayor and council that, “at 8:37 a.m. Monday [Sept. 12], at Midland and Forest St. a student almost got hit.”

Complicating matters at the charter school, where there is no designated drop-off zone (as is the case at public schools around town), parents of children from kindergarten to grade 3 “must bring their kids into school [in the morning] and sign them out [at dismissal time],” said Deputy Police Chief George King, so they have to scramble to find legal parking spaces.

“The first day of school,” King said, “we issued quite a few summonses for people parking by hydrants and in crosswalks. … It has gotten better but it’s still a work in progress.”

Lincoln Middle School, just a block or so from the charter school, has bell times that vary from HASCS, and parent Tracy Solinski said that by the time some students, like her son, get out from after-school clubs, the guards have finished for the day.

“Kids are not paying attention [as they walk home], they’re on their cell phones, playing Pokemon Go!,” Solinski said.

But there are other students who attend Roosevelt and Schuyler Schools and cross Midland and/or Oakwood Ave. who are also impacted by the coverage dilemma.

King said that police representatives, including traffic bureau head Lt. John Taylor, met with the HASCS security director before school opened to review the school’s opening/closing times to try and plot out a crossing guard schedule that would best fit.

But, he added, because the guards are limited to a five-hour period each day – and because Lincoln School requires coverage for a two-hour lunch period – “trying to find a middle ground” in adjusting their schedules to ensure no gaps was virtually undoable.

Mayor Alberto Santos said that, “we should extend the [guards’] hours but that has to be negotiated with CS [Civil Service Council] 11,” referring to the union that bargains for the guards. “Mathematically, with these different schedules, five hours can’t cover it.”

Santos went on to say that the “charter school has rights to the same protection [of its students] but that shouldn’t penalize our children.”

HASCS takes students from K to grade 5 from Kearny, Jersey City and other communities in northern New Jersey and the Kearny Board of Education is obliged to pay for the charter’s Kearny resident students.

Santos said that King and the town administration “will work on this. There will be an issue on cost.”

In the interim, King said the KPD will continue to monitor the situation to try and safeguard children crossing as best it can within the time restrictions. 

   

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.