Las Vegas Sun

January 19, 2018

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Watch out! Slow down! Schools ready to open across valley

They look like sweet grandparents, and many of them are, but crossing guards can be very protective of the children they watch over.

“We’re not allowed to hit cars with our signs, but sometimes you want to,” said Paul Kmetz, who has been helping Clark County schoolchildren get to and from class for more than three years.

They’re also not allowed to curse or yell at drivers, but they do everything they can to protect students, despite speeders, cars making illegal U-turns and motorists talking on cellphones.

“Cellphones are probably the worst,” Kmetz said.

Thousands of Clark County School District students return to classes next week, and principals, crossing guards and law enforcement agencies are preparing for the resulting congestion around schools, which always seems to be worse during the first couple of weeks.

“This week kids are going to be excited and running across the street,” said Laura Dickensheets, principal of Rundle Elementary School, 425 Christy Lane.

“Every year the school has a lot of traffic congestion in the morning and we just ask people to be patient and follow the rules and be nice to each other,” she said.

During a demonstration for the media Tuesday, Clark County School Police and Metro Police issued nine tickets to speeders outside Rundle Elementary in just 30 minutes, despite flashing yellow lights and police cars clearly visible at the intersection where students were crossing.

One motorist was going nearly 50 mph in the school zone, where the speed limit was 15 mph.

Sgt. Darnell Couthen of the School Police said there are always lots of things for them to worry about and deal with as school starts, “But it’s the speeding in school zones,” that’s the biggest problem, he said.

“The kids don’t always do what they’re supposed to, so (motorists) need to make sure they are extra careful in the school zone,” Couthen said.

Fines in school zones are doubled, meaning a $90 speeding ticket instantly becomes $180, he said.

Henderson has been changing signs in school zones to remind motorists that lower speed limits apply any time children are present, not just when the lights are flashing, city spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said.

Many motorists also don’t realize that some laws are different in school zones, where motorist have to stop for someone in a crosswalk, even if the person is on the other side of the road, Richards said. In other areas, a vehicle has to stop for a pedestrian only if the person is on the same side of the road as the car.

New laws also are on the books to make it safer for students walking or biking to school. The state’s hands-free cellphone law goes into effect Oct. 1, and another law requires passing motorists to give bicyclists three feet of space.

But school officials are especially concerned about congestion around elementary schools this year, because changes in bell schedules mean many middle schools will have similar start times as nearby elementary schools.

Couthen said he hopes parents will walk their children to school, or if they have to, drive partway and then walk the rest to avoid the problem areas.

Doing so also gives parents a chance to talk to their kids and teach them about safety.

Those safety skills are important because budget cuts mean there are never enough crossing guards, Dickensheets said.

Some of her students have to cross Nellis Boulevard, where it’s not uncommon to see a parent with a 5-year-old stuck on the median with cars speeding by, she said.

But she is grateful for the guards she has.

“They have so much on the line every day,” she said. “It’s easy to take that position for granted, but our kids’ lives are what they are watching over.”

Most of the guards don’t do it for the money or prestige. Many of them are retired and love spending time with children.

“Retirement is not all its cracked up to be, sitting at home,” Kmetz said.

Guard Marylyn Thorn said that even though the afternoon shift cuts into naptime, the job is fun.

“The money doesn’t matter but it’s good for the grandkids because I spend it on them,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean the job is easy. “Many people are not obedient and they’ll cross right there,” she said, pointing to a crosswalk, “So a crossing guard has to be alert.”

[email protected] / 948-7841 / @kylebhansen

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