FEDERALSBURG — After a discussion at Federalsburg’s town meeting Tuesday, Sept. 3, about the lack of a crossing guard in front of Federalsburg Elementary School, it was agreed the intersection at Academy and University avenues will be monitored for the first month of school before the issue is revisited for a final decision.
In the meantime, Federalsburg Police Chief Mike McDermott said, the on-duty officer on school mornings will target the streets surrounding the school, in an effort to improve overall safety, not just the safety of a single intersection.
But, McDermott said, he will reassign the officer to crosswalk duties if the town’s mayor and council directs it.
Caroline County Public Schools released a letter Thursday, Aug. 29, to parents of students at both Federalsburg and Preston elementary schools saying there would not be a crossing guard at either school when students returned Sept. 3 for the first day of the 2019-20 school year.
The letter said the schools’ assigned school resource officers were to patrol the entrances of the schools during take-in and dismissal, when doors are unlocked and the buildings are at the most vulnerable, and that traffic control was the towns’ responsibility.
In response to the letter, McDermott said he made the decision in May to pull the town officer off crossing guard duty, before a school resource officer had been assigned to Federalsburg Elementary School, which is among four elementary schools in the county to have one for the first time this year.
McDermott, who took over as chief last November, said the intersection is now a four-way stop and no longer needs a crossing guard; Academy Avenue was a through-street with no stop signs when town police first started controlling the crosswalk.
The issue was brought up at the town meeting by Joanna Durando, president of the school’s PTA and an in-town resident who walks her child to school.
Durando said while the students who walk and bike to school also are responsible for safely using the crosswalks, they learned how to do so from the police officers acting as crossing guards.
“The police are role models,” she said.
Durando said she agreed the school resource officer should be patrolling the school’s three entrances and exits, citing instances where noncustodial adults tried to slip in and pick up kids.
Durando said she has seen a lot of positive changes made to the town’s police force since McDermott was named chief, but she does not agree with this one.
“It’s not a smart decision to pull the crossing guard,” Durando said. “It needs to be changed.”
McDermott said he monitored the intersection during the previous school year and concluded placing the only on-duty officer in town in the crosswalk is not the wisest use of that officer.
“We had an assault in progress call this morning, when that officer would have been in the crosswalk,” he said.
McDermott said if the school or the school system wants to place its own crossing guard in the crosswalk, he would have no qualms.
Lt. Donald Baker, who oversees the school resource officer program with the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office, said any crossing guard would, by law, have to be managed and trained by the sheriff’s office.
Part of the conflict stemmed from lack of communication.
Superintendent Dr. Patricia Saelens said the school system emailed the towns’ police chiefs Aug. 21 after hearing rumors towns were not providing crossing guards; McDermott replied two days later, less than two weeks before the start of the school year.
“If that decision was made in May, we were not notified,” Saelens said.
Saelens said the school system has always had a great relationship with town officials and police, and she would like to continue it, but she would also like to see a crossing guard back in place.
“It’s 15 to 20 minutes in the morning and afternoon,” Saelens said. “Our kids are worth it.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s one or 20 kids (using the crosswalk),” said Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Milton Nagel. “It’s important.”
Nagel suggested flashing school crossing signs, like ones near Preston Elementary School’s crosswalk on state Route 331, could be installed.
Councilmember David Morean also suggested pylons that could be placed in the crosswalks.
Councilmember Scott Phillips thanked everyone for sharing their thoughts on a “sticky topic.”
Mayor Chuck Planner said he planned to observe the intersection himself during school opening and dismissal, and invited any concerned parents to talk to him.