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The Saber

RNE News

The Saber

RNE News

The Saber

Opinion | RNE needs traffic directors

Cherish Bostick
Richland Northeast’s main entrance gate in front of the intersection. While it’s empty in the photo, it gets especially busy in the mornings and the afternoon, leading to heavy traffic and an increased risk of accidents.

For the past several months, traffic at the front gate of Richland Northeast has been much more congested during drop-off and dismissal – and it’s because no one is there to direct cars and pedestrians through the busy intersection at the front of the school.

For background, the lack of a traffic director is mostly due to Richland School District 2’s decision to ban crossing guards from controlling cars outside of a school crossing zone, which it previously allowed. Richland 2 found out this past spring that it was against the law for it to do so, and hence, traffic in and out has ceased to be regulated here as well as around other schools in the district.

While it’s understandable that it doesn’t want to continue breaking the law, that doesn’t explain how the board has seemed to be slower in providing replacements at some schools. A few have been working alongside off-duty deputies, but not everywhere has had that luxury.

District superintendent Dr. Kim Moore explained in the statement released in August that she and her colleagues were “exhausting all options” to try to find off-duty directors. But in the months since she said that, nearly no one has been seen at the gate during drop-off or dismissal, at least at this school.

That point in particular is probably one of RNE’s most dangerous points of entry: science teacher Susan Matthews had an accident there in September, and something similar may happen soon if things stay the way they are.

It was Northeast’s homecoming day, and Matthews was leaving campus after a long eight hours of school. “While I was in my lane, one student who was supposed to stop… and make sure that I had gone, he just went. He thought I might be too slow and [that] he could make the curve before I came by,” explained Matthews when asked the details of the accident. “He didn’t stop long enough to make sure that the road was safe.”

Her car t-boned and she lost control of the vehicle. Thankfully, there were no cars in the oncoming lanes, so she was able to maneuver her car to a safer area. She was hoping to gently roll to a stop, she said, but crashed into a tree instead.

Neither Matthews nor the other driver were injured, but both of them certainly could have been if anything had been different – if Matthews wasn’t driving slow, for example, or if there was another car in the opposite lane that she could have collided with. The worst part about the accident was how if there had been some measure of traffic control present at the time, it could have been avoided entirely. A guard could have told the other person to stop, and Matthews could have continued about her afternoon as usual.

But instead, she was left with a totaled car and trauma whenever she enters or exits the front gate. “Every time I come through that area, I am so scared. Like, I see all of them stop and I’m not sure if they’re going to drive right in… because there’s no traffic controller there,” said Matthews. “I’m kind of worried [that] somebody’s going to make a rash decision.”

It leaves us to wonder why the district is seeming to overlook such an important aspect of school life in the first place – and the only reasonable explanation for it would be the lack of funds to have a traffic director on the payroll.

Yet one thing doesn’t add up: R2 has spent millions on construction projects at schools like Forest Lake Elementary and our very own Richland Northeast over the past few years. Why isn’t it able to hire one person to wave the traffic along twice a weekday? Is it really that hard to ensure the safe and efficient flow of transportation? Or is there more to it?

Whatever the reason may be, this district has to step up its game in providing adequate safety measures for everyone involved in its schools, especially here. Doing such is a form of showing respect, Matthews said, to students, teachers, and parents. And with that, she suggested a few solutions that may help RNE and maybe even other places that need it.

One of such would be to paint an entirely separate crosswalk right at the gate instead of continuing to use the one down the road. That way, a crossing guard can direct both cars and walkers while optimizing effort towards everyone’s safety in such a hazardous intersection. The way I see it, the district would only have to pay for one person instead of two, which would save it money in the long run. Besides, I see plenty of students crossing the road there anyway – would it really be that dramatic of a change in the first place?

Of course, something like this presents possible challenges. The installment and maintenance costs may not be small, the project will stall traffic for at least a few days, and the district would have to submit a lot of paperwork and legal documents before anything happens. It isn’t an impossible task, though, and can be done if the plan got approved.

But if R2 won’t jump on getting us separate traffic directors, then I doubt it would be enthusiastic about something that would require even more effort and funding.

That’s exactly where we could come in. Matthews’ other idea was for us students to reach out to the sheriff or another authority figure and ask them for help, whether it be in the form of a traffic controller, a stoplight, or something similar. I’d even go as far as to think other schools in need of traffic control could be empowered to do the same. In time, this could solve the problem completely, and our schools could be a safer place to drive to and from again.

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