Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2014

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Serious look taken at school traffic

When parents at Cannon Middle School learned administrators were barred from turning on flashing school zone warning lights on days when students were dismissed earlier than usual, volunteers lined the sidewalks to remind motorists to slow down.

At the new Goynes Elementary School, the PTA -- led by a former Army engineer -- is redesigning traffic patterns and safety measures in and around the North Las Vegas campus.

And one parent has begun videotaping the worst traffic offenders around Tomiyasu Elementary School, footage that may wind up in an online "hall of shame."

The safety of students walking to school has become a pressing issue in the Clark County School District. Since the academic year began Aug. 29, there have been 17 traffic-related incidents at or near campuses, Agustin Orci, interim co-superintendent, said.

That tally includes the October death of 11-year-old Amanda Aragon, killed by a hit-and-run driver as she used a crosswalk just a few yards from Sawyer Middle School.

"We need to develop real strategies, not more rhetoric, if we're going to prevent more accidents," Orci told parents, district officials and representatives from municipal governments, police and public safety agencies at a meeting Wednesday. "There is no higher priority than the safety of our students."

While people searched for answers, there were plenty of complaints: Problems include the way parents drive in school zones, the sometimes poor locations of crosswalks and bus stops and the lack of crossing guards at middle schools.

People described older campuses denied basic safety measures such as speed bumps, confusing signs marking the start of school zones and poorly planned traffic routes that prompt frustrated parents to break the rules.

Gina Greisen, whose daughter attends Tomiyasu and has been collecting video evidence of traffic safety violators, initiated the meeting at the district's new office building on West Sahara Avenue. She hopes the next step will be the creation of an authorized school traffic safety task force that will follow through on the group's informal recommendations.

"It's a good start to get everybody in the same room sharing ideas and brainstorming," Greisen said.

"Now let's get to work cutting back bushes that are hiding stop signs. Let's do the things that can happen immediately.

"There's so much bureaucracy in the district, but some of these community partners could certainly help out here."

Clark County School Police Chief Hector Garcia said his department will be "revisiting" the layout of pick-up and drop-off zones at campuses and plans to involve police and fire departments to ensure emergency vehicles still have full access.

Scott Konnath, a former Army engineer and defense contractor whose two sons attend Goynes, said school police -- at his urging -- helped the PTA devise a new campus traffic plan, including the layout of the parking lot.

Konnath said he knew the traffic patterns would be a disaster before the school even opened in August. He brought his concerns to district administrators but was told it was too late to change the design. But Konnath pressed on, eventually enlisting a North Las Vegas city planner to help him revise the traffic plan.

"We're seeing improvements, but there's still a lot that needs fixing," Konnath said. "Our principal is out there directing traffic every day -- that's not his job. He should be able to focus on hiring teachers, curriculum and instruction."

The majority of motorists in school zones, including traffic offenders, are likely chauffeuring their own children, Nevada PTA President Robin Munier said.

"Parents are part of the problem, so they'll have to be part of the solution," Munier said.

School officials tried to recruit parents to help supplement the number of crossing guards by local police agencies, but only a handful of campuses have shown interest. Clark County, like other major districts, only has crossing guards at elementary school campuses.

Metro Police Sgt. Rob Lundquist described one step the agency has already taken to help address school traffic safety issues. Because school police officers are not authorized to issue traffic citations, Metro instructors who teach drug- and violence-prevention programs at schools are being trained to use radar. When the instructors are not in class, they are encouraged to go outside and enforce speed limits.

"If you look at the number of officers we have it's very difficult for us to be out at every school every day," Lundquist said. "We need these other agencies to be involved."

Emily Richmond can be reached at 259-8829 or at [email protected]

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