by Margarita Bogdanova
According to the New York Post, more than one in seven public school students walk to and from school every single day. Oceanside is no different, as anyone watching the steady stream of kids trudging down Brower and Skillman early each morning and sailing down those same streets in the afternoon can attest. But while our local government pays much attention to what happens at both sides of that walk－at school and at home－not enough time is spent discussing the safety of students during the walk itself. Unfortunately, the recent tragic accident in which a freshman girl walking to school was seriously injured by a car has caused an outcry from students and parents alike, demanding that Nassau County do better.
An important feature of walking students’ safety is the presence of crossing guards at busy intersections. All the care in the world won’t protect students from negligent and distracted drivers zooming down the streets, but crossing guards can. In their bright reflective vests, whistles, and lanyards, they attract immediate attention, direct traffic, and make reckless drivers wary to break rules just by being there—something kids, especially younger kids, can’t do. Even scientific studies are clear(2): where there are crossing guards, the chances of student injuries drop to practically zero.
It seems like putting crossing guards at busy intersections before and after school hours is a no brainer for the community, but an investigation into Nassau County and police budget priorities for the last seven years tells a different story. The budget for full-time crossing guards has fallen dramatically from $8,317,533 in 2011 to $6,549,252 in 2017. Aside from that 20% decrease, the amount of full-time crossing guards has been cut by almost a third, from 331 to 229 over the past 8 years. That’s dozens of crossing guards that are no longer there keeping Nassau county students safe.
It’s not just the crossing guard program that’s disappearing—traffic cameras, the Walk Safe Initiative, and all the emergency services have faced large decreases since 2011. Deputy County Executive Eric C. Naughton, however, is assuring the public that these cuts are necessary to balance the county budget, and that new part time workers and private companies will fill in the gaps. But is it worth it?
Well, Nassau County’s new policies have caused a shortage of crossing guards. Perhaps you’ve noticed from the ”Part time crossing guard job opening” signs popping up all over Oceanside. The paltry $3 million saved on traffic safety barely dents the ballooning $90,000,000 county debt.
A group of sophomores that walk to school every day on Atlantic Avenue say they’re feeling the effects, and it’s not pretty: “There used to be, I think, cops….all down the street, especially on Long Beach Road…but now there’s nobody there most of the time. I think I’ve personally almost gotten hit by a car like three times this year already.” Younger Oceanside students, the most affected, also chimed in. “Where there are police and cameras, everyone drives slowly, but when there aren’t, some people don’t even look and just go as fast as possible,” complained 5th grader Emily. Her friend Danny added, “A lot of people are nice and let us walk past, but there are drivers that don’t seem to care that kids are crossing the street.”
However, some question whether there is a problem at all. A junior, when asked about traffic safety, simply shrugged and said, “Nobody at the high school should need help walking; we’re not two years old. The little kids should just get driven by their parents or take a bus.” The crossing guard cuts are also beneficial for taxpayers, whose property taxes would rise if the budgets for crossing guards, cameras, and other traffic safety programs were expanded. Yet a group of Oceanside residents, presumably taxpayers, have made a petition demanding crossing guards and other measures at the intersection where our classmate was struck this year. They believe that “parents and children should feel safe using this intersection.”
A new 2018 budget for Nassau County will be voted on this October, and all documents and decisions are accessible to the public. Now, OHS has the opportunity to come together as we have before, raising awareness and working with the community, to push people to vote this month and make our town a safer place.