Many of Dorchester District Two schools are in neighborhoods, encouraging students to walk or ride to school. But the trip to school means students — and drivers — need to pay extra attention to what’s happening around them.
With students back in school, here are some tips parents and students should keep in mind when they are arriving and leaving school.
Sidewalks and crosswalks
Mike Turner has been the director of safety and security for the district for the past six years. One thing he strongly emphasizes is the use of sidewalks and crosswalks to get to school safely.
“Those crosswalks are there for a reason,” he said.
Some roads have situations where only one side of the road has a sidewalk. If students walking to school come across such a situation, they should always use the sidewalk. If there are no sidewalks available, students should walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.
Turner said DD2 does its best to make sure schools have an adequate number of crossing guards at every school, and pedestrians should always use the crosswalk – and parents should especially use the crosswalk to set an example.
“It sets an example for the students and it is a good habit to be in,” he said.
Robert Shingler, sergeant in the traffic unit for the Summerville Police Department, said everyone should listen to the crossing guards and police officers as well.
“Kids need to be patient with the officers and crossing guards in getting them across the street,” he said.
Walking or biking to school
While some students receive an escort from parents on foot, some students walk or ride their bikes solo.
Turner encourages students to do the following when heading to school without a parent: try to travel in a group, make sure the group is focused on getting to school in a timely fashion, stay in areas that are well-traveled, and check in with adults when they are leaving point A to get to point B.
“Your parents are going to be looking for you – make sure you don’t stop on the way back.
“Parents need to sit down with students and talk about their expected conduct,” Turner added.
On bikes Turner advises students to always wear visible clothing and backpacks, and make sure bikes are equipped with reflectors.
“And, obviously, stay out of the roadway,” he added.
Road rules still apply to those on foot or on bikes — stop at intersections and crosswalks and follow crossing guards’ directions.
Shingler said another thing parents should talk about with their kids is avoiding strangers; children should try to get a good description of any person they think is out of the ordinary, and get away from that person as quickly as possible.
“Kids would be better off walking in little groups as opposed to alone,” he said.
Parents who drive their kids to school should be aware that school traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, is highly congested. Turner recommends leaving for school as early as possible and being observant of the walkers and other drivers — and limiting distractions inside the car as well.
“It’s a sheer number of vehicles you have going into these areas,” he said. “As you look around at our roads, they were not designed for the level of traffic we have. We put a lot of cars through these areas in a short period of time. Lower your speed and stay a whole lot more focused on what you are doing.”
Shingler added that drivers need to pay attention to the flashing lights outside of school during drop-off and pick-up times; drivers need to reduce their speed to 25 miles per hour — and should also do the same in surrounding neighborhoods. Drivers should also be paying attention to the crossing guards.
“Sometimes we are going to have to move some traffic around before we move the kids across the street,” he said.
While some parents like to wait at bus stops with their children to see them off, there are rules that apply to adults about getting on a bus.
Turner said only students and district employees are allowed on the bus.
“That happens all the time,” he said. “You can go to jail for that. You can’t have a parent get on the bus basically at all.”
Drivers should be aware to stop for school buses that are picking up students. If a driver fails to stop for a stopped school bus the penalty is an automatic six-point violation and, possibly, a trip to jail – though that is up to the officer’s discretion, Shingler said.
“They just need to be paying attention to the school buses, because they will make frequent stops,” he said. “When the lights start to come out the citizens need to slow down and come to a stop instead of driving around the school bus. You just never know if a kid is going to jump off the bus and take off running.”
Overall, Shingler said, drivers should be mindful of police officers and crossing guards.
“We’re trying to make their travels as easy as we possibly can with the traffic levels,” he said. “They got to have a little bit of patience with the traffic levels and the crossing guards. We are doing everything we can to get everybody out as safely as possible. We are there for the safety of the community.”