MDUSD appears wary of accepting liability for volunteer crossing guards
The Mt. Diablo school board tonight will hear an update about an effort underway at Ayers Elementary to provide volunteer crossing guards to replace those that were cut from the city of Concord’s budget.
Trustees first discussed this issue Jan. 14. Here’s what the agenda report for that meeting said:
“Some municipalities have reduced traffic control support in these difficult budgetary times. Accordingly, some district employees and parent groups have offered to provide crossing guard support at our elementary sites. Consequently, in order to create a consistent policy the Board shall discuss the merits and implications of providing either District based or volunteer crossing guards.”
Here are video links to the board discussion:
Part 1: http://youtu.be/iGCgwzW5ee8
Part 2: http://youtu.be/eHHbRNARTBY
After this meeting, I received an email from an Ayers Elementary parent that was also sent to the board, a response to the parent that was copied to everyone else on the distribution list, a response from the parent, a follow-up email from the parent, and a response from the Ayers Office Manager that was copied to everyone on the distribution list.
Here is the sequence of emails:
Jan. 15 email from Ayers parent Kristi Buchholz:
“Dear Concord City Council Members, City of Concord Administration, MDUSD Board Members, and MDUSD Administration,
I have been a city resident for almost 20 years. I have two children in the MDUSD, one in second grade, and one in seventh grade. I have been a very active parent at Ayers Elementary School since 2006. I have sat on School Site Council, am a member of the Ayers Safety Committee, held multiple positions on the Ayers PTA, Pine Hollow PTA as well as the Mt. Diablo Council of PTA’s. I am fortunate enough to be able to volunteer many hours a week through these worthwhile organizations.
I am writing to you all out of sheer frustration and desperation at this point. The crosswalk directly in front of Ayers Elementary has been a very dangerous problem for years. This particular crosswalk was never staffed at city or MDUSD expense. Up until last year, a MDUSD noon supervisor staffed the crosswalk, and Ayers PTA reimbursed MDUSD for the expense at roughly $2500 per year. As you are all aware, PTA’s and other parent groups are scrambling to raise precious funds to supplement the thousands of dollars cut by the State of California. Ayers PTA was happy to fund this, considering it a small price to pay for the safety and well being of our hundreds of students. We were informed at the beginning of this school year, that employees were no longer permitted to act as crossing guards, regardless of who was paying for it.
I then approached the City of Concord Police Department, on behalf of the Ayers Safety committee, to inquire about codes and rules regarding acting as a crossing guard. We were aware of Concord Municipal Code 106-39 which reads: “Sec. 106-39. Persons other than authorized officials not to direct traffic.
No person other than an officer of the Police Department, members of the Fire District, a person authorized by the Chief of Police, or a person authorized by law shall direct or attempt to direct traffic by voice, hand, or other signal, except in an emergency and except that persons may operate any mechanical pushbutton signal erected by order of the Director of Public Works.0
(Code 1965, § 3211; Ord. No. 743; Ord. No. 818″
We then were contacted by Officer Bill Roche who informed us that the Police Department was putting together a volunteer crossing guard curriculum, thus allowing trained volunteers to act as crossing guards. On Wednesday, January 9th, a small but dedicated group of volunteers attended the training. Finally, a solution!
Now, this morning, I received an email from the Ayers Principal, Ms, Charla Hernandez informing me that she had attended the MDUSD School Board meeting last night (January 14th) where the School Board stated that no volunteers may act as crossing guards. Ms. Hernandez also informed me that we can no longer act as crossing guards in front of Ayers. The children are now left to their own devices to get safely across the street. This is completely unacceptable.
I am now appealing to a broad group of you, administrators, elected officials and local media to help get this issue solved. Enough is enough. I realize that this all comes down to liability. There must be a way to make this work. This must be corrected immediately to insure the safety of the hundreds of children at Ayers. I am sure as more budget cuts loom, the City of Concord may consider eliminating all paid crossing guards, as they attempted to do in June of 2012.
Ayers PTA Executive VP
Ayers Safety Committee Member”
Jan. 15 district response:
“To all concerned:
Trustee Brian Lawrence contacted me concerned about possible misperceptions about the Board deliberations regarding volunteer crossing guards. The Board docket information item 14 .9 entitled ‘Crossing Guards’ read:
‘Some municipalities have reduced traffic control support in these difficult budgetary times. Accordingly, some district employees and parent groups have offered to provide crossing guard support at our elementary sites. Consequently, in order to create a consistent policy the Board shall discuss the merits and implications of providing either district based or volunteer crossing guards.’
The Board agenda item demonstrates an understanding that many public entities are having to make difficult economic decisions. The Board was briefed on their legal responsibility with regard to District based in volunteer crossing guard support. The Board members all praised the volunteers at Ayres Elementary School for being part of the solution. The Board and staff uniformly stated that the District wished to participate in a collaborative solution with the municipalities, namely the City of Concord, in order to go the extra mile to protect our students. Although the Board was mindful of its fiduciary duty to protect the District from liability, they directed staff to do whatever we could to work with the City to protect our students, reduced legal exposure, and help the City provide this service. Specifically the Board directed Dr. Lawrence and me to meet with the City of Concord staff to discuss this collaborative solution. Dr. Lawrence will be contacting them today.
Greg Rolen, Esq.
Mt. Diablo Unified School District
1936 Carlotta Drive
Concord, California 94519
Telephone: 925-682-8000 Ext. 4001
Buchholz’ Jan. 15 response:
“Dear Mr. Rolen,
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I am sure you can understand my frustration of fighting this battle for over six years now. My worst fear is that a child will become injured, or worse. I am sure you share those same fears.
I fully understand that liability is at the center of the issue now. Has anyone from MDUSD inquired with your insurance company regarding employee’s acting as crossing guards? If so, what was the reply? Is this specifically excluded in the insurance plan? What would it take to get coverage for this? I can only assume that the City of Concord is going to pass the buck on liability as well. What then? I refuse to accept that this is an impossible feat.
I have spoken to many different MDUSD officials and administrators over those six years and have never gotten a clear, definitive answer. When Ayers PTA began reimbursing the district for noon supervisors acting as crossing guards, Julie Braun Martin told me that employees could not act as crossing guards because their contracts forbid it. When I pointed out that noon time supervisors are not under contract, I never heard back. I have asked to see any policy regarding this, in writing, multiple times. No one ever returned my inquiries.
I believe that six years is an unacceptable amount of time to get a problem solved.
I look forward to getting anwers to my questions soon.
Buchholz’ Jan. 23 follow-up:
“I would like to pass on that while observing the crosswalk this morning, two children came within a foot or two of being hit by cars. I am at a loss for words as this is allowed to continue.
I am aware that Dr. Lawrence is meeting with Chief Swanger and Valerie Barone soon, and eagerly await a quick decision, as the current situation is unacceptable.
Jan. 23 response from Ayers Office Manager Sarah Strong:
“Please, please stop!!
This very important issue is tearing our community apart. Our students are expecting all of us to model the spirit of collaboration to solve problems. If we don’t show it to them now, how will they ever learn it?
Office Manager, Ayers Elementary
Phone: 925 682-7686
District Extension: 85701
Fax #: 925827-2521″
After attending the Jan. 14 meeting, CC Times columnist Tom Barnidge weighed in with this column: http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_22436832/barnidge-how-solve-case-missing-crossing-guards
How do you think the district should resolve this issue>?
JAN. 30 UPDATE: Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Monday meeting, so I did not hear the crossing guard update (and there was not written staff report). However, I am posting a Jan. 29 follow-up email that was sent by Buchholz to her original distribution list, thanking them for their work on resolving the issue:
“To all involved in our Ayers Crossing Guard situation,
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!
I was so very pleased at the outcome presented at our MDUSD School Board meeting last night. This has been a glowing example of the good that can come from all the stake holders in our community coming together to solve a problem.
I thoroughly appreciate the collaboration from all involved, it could not have happened without each and every one of you participating in some way!
I would like to give a special thanks to both Brian Lawrence and Edi Birsan for going above and beyond. I am very grateful to be part of a community who has leaders such as them at the helm.
I honestly expected some push back, and some red tape, but I am so happy that all I got was support, and declarations of ‘We will get this done’, from everyone!