A group of Emmorton Elementary School parents expressed concerns to the members of the Harford County Board of Education Monday evening about the safety of their children who must walk to school along busy South Tollgate Road.
Parents who spoke during the public comment portion of Monday's board business meeting said Emmorton teachers and parents put themselves at risk by stepping in the street and stopping traffic to allow children to cross.
They said a crossing guard is present, but parents and teachers must also step in to assist.
School board members did not respond to the specific issues raised regarding Emmorton or others raised during the public comment session, such as how losing bus transportation has affected magnet program students or thanks from Prospect Mill Elementary School parents for approving funding to enclose the school's classrooms.
Board members rarely address, from the dais, specific issues raised during the public comment portion of the meeting. Member Cassandra Beverley, during the period for board member comments, however, encouraged members of the public to keep making their voices heard.
"I thank you all for coming out," she said. "I thank you for sharing and I invite you to continue along for the journey and we will be giving you every opportunity to have input."
The Emmorton parents noted vehicle traffic and the number of children walking has increased because the number of school buses for Emmorton Elementary was cut as the school system consolidated its bus routes to save money this year.
Karen Baran, who lives in the Monmouth Meadows community just south of the school, said children walking along Montrose Way from the neighborhood must cross the "extra-wide roundabout" at Montrose and South Tollgate to get to school.
Baran and other parents who spoke Monday noted the challenge facing drivers traveling on South Tollgate Road, where hills can block views of the children near the roundabout.
"As an adult you can see their head bouncing along and that's it, but if you're traveling at a certain rate of speed, even at the speed limit, you can't always stop in time," she said.
Annette Hansen, a parent and member of the Parent-Teacher Association, described chaotic morning scenes of drivers making U-turns "in the middle of the street," and children having to jump back from vehicles.
She said children cross at the roundabout, and walk directly across Tollgate.
"I watch it nearly every day, children jumping back from the curb because cars are on their way to work or in a rush to get their children to school and then get to work themselves," Hansen told board members. "I know that we're all parents, everybody has somewhere to be, everybody has something to do, but our children's safety is really of utmost importance."
The former Baltimore County and Baltimore City educator said she understood the impact of funding cutbacks.
"Teachers, children are always affected by the budget cuts," Hansen said. "However, I would really like for you to reconsider getting our buses back for our children by next year."
Hansen also commended Emmorton administrators and staff "for doing everything that they can to ensue our children's safety."
Parent Melissa Manara, who has been in regular contact with school system officials about the issue, said she does not allow her children to walk to school.
"My kids are safely in my car because I don't feel safe walking them to and from school," she said.
Manara said the roundabout at Montrose and South Tollgate becomes unsafe in cold weather.
"When there is ice, or even rain and the temperature goes down, the bottom of our circle is a sheet of ice," she said. "There's no way to stop."
Manara suggested that school officials either restore Emmorton's buses or that parents contract a bus.
"I understand the budget issues and I understand that buses are a luxury in the State of Maryland, but it's not a luxury for our kids to be safe, and I hope that you all feel that way too," she said.
Edward Hopkins, spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said a crossing guard is assigned to the area, but one shift was recently missed because of a scheduling error, and school officials stepped in to assist with traffic control.
He said the sheriff's office had not been made aware of any issues before or after that missed shift.
He said the Sheriff's Office is responsible for 19 school crossings, and has 16 crossing guards with two alternates.
"We cover them, but it's a challenge that we constantly have to monitor," Hopkins said.
Hopkins said three candidates for additional crossing guard positions are going through an intense screening process that he said can take 60 to 90 days.
"They're working with kids," he explained. "Their integrity needs to be intact and solid."
Hopkins said the area around South Tollgate is considered heavily congested, and the Sheriff's Office is working with school officials on a traffic flow study "to find out what's the best way to route people in and out."