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August 1, 2014

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Parents rally to kindly school volunteer told to take a walk

After 24 years, Frank Perone told it’s against rules to volunteer as crossing guard without Metro Police supervision

Image

Sam Morris

Frank Perone stands Thursday near Wasden Elementary School, where he served as a volunteer crossing guard for more than 20 years.

Wasden Elementary School

Frank Perone stood across the street from Wasden Elementary School nearly every school day, morning and afternoon, for 24 years.

That makes Perone, now 77, the longest-serving crossing guard in the Clark County School District. Or he was, until the school year began Aug. 24, and Scott Du Chateau, Wasden’s new principal, told Perone his services would no longer be needed.

The reason: Perone has been volunteering all these years, and that’s against School District rules, which don’t allow volunteer crossing guards under district supervision, according to district spokesman David Sheehan.

Perone could work under Metro Police, but Du Chateau would have to request this arrangement, Metro Police Community Service Supervisor Helen Lawhon says.

In the meantime, Perone can’t take up the post he had manned since three of his own children went to Wasden in the mid-1980s.

It appears to be an example of a bureaucratic institution out of touch with everyday people. Some families with decades of connection to Wasden lament the passing of an earlier time, when schools, and the entire valley, were smaller.

Thursday morning, Perone shows a visitor his post, and why he is needed there.

He describes children weaving in front of cars, drivers going too fast. That’s why he has a gold whistle around his neck, a gift from parents, the initials “FJP” engraved near the mouthpiece. Most of the students greet him with “Good morning, Mr. Perone.”

Alberto Lombardo walks up, Starbucks cup in one hand, his fourth grade son Oliver’s fingers in the other. They stop for Oliver to give a hug to the grandfatherly Perone.

It’s been nearly a month since an unlikely cast has tried to bring Perone back to this spot in his former role, including state Assemblyman Harvey Munford, who represents Perone’s neighborhood; District Court Judge Donald Mosley, whose son went to Wasden and also greeted Perone every morning and afternoon for years; the Rancho Manor Neighborhood Association; and hundreds of parents.

Munford has met with Du Chateau and district area superintendent Monte Bay. Perone has talked to Lawhon, who has known Perone 17 years. Lawhon supervises the valley’s several dozen volunteer guards and 380 paid crossing guards, who earn $8.91 an hour. Metro would be glad to pay him, but Wasden already has crossing guards about a block away, Lawhon said, so there’s no opening for him.

Besides, Perone really only wants his old spot, in front of the school, where parents drop off their children in a narrow roadway, creating chaos. And Lawhon would take him on as an official volunteer, but again, that’s the principal’s call.

As the bureaucracy turns, Lombardo deploys his own activism. He put a sign on a fence across the street from the school that directed supporters to send e-mail to “[email protected]” He got 530 responses, from families with children currently in the school and alumni spread across the valley. Those alumni include Lombardo’s nieces and nephews, now in their 20s, who also crossed the street under Perone’s guidance as children.

The sign was taken down.

Sheehan says that while “the district encourages volunteerism ... there are certain rules that we have to follow to protect everybody.” But Sheehan doesn’t know when the district created the rule cited in Perone’s case, or why it is being enforced now. The district did not make Wasden Principal Du Chateau available for comment.

Thomas Herman, who has studied families, children and communities at San Diego State University’s geography department, says the scenario is a “classic case ... of the heavy-handed tools available to a bureaucracy that treat every situation as the same and don’t value the person-to-person bonds so important to a community.”

Herman says the case is especially important because “elementary schools are among the few places left where the community participates.”

Those bonds Herman speaks of are apparent Thursday morning as Wendy White pulls up with her daughter, Elizabeth, a fourth grader who has been crossing the street under Perone’s watchful eye since kindergarten.

“Just stand here and you’ll see everyone is driving carefully, being polite,” White says. “When he’s not here, it’s different.”

She, too, attended Wasden, before Perone’s arrival. But her little brothers and sisters went to school under his watch. She gives Perone Christmas cards every year. She remembers when he was missing once or twice in years past, out sick with a flu. Back then “the principal would send around a get-well card for parents to sign,” she says.

Nearby, Louie Alvarez, whose daughter, Vanessa, is in the fifth grade, says he has seen children nearly get hit by cars twice in the few weeks since Perone’s been off his post.

“They need him back,” says Jewell Hoskins, whose grandson, Camdon Newcomb, is a Wasden second grader. Getting rid of Perone “doesn’t make sense,” Hoskins adds.

Meanwhile, Perone obviously misses his routine, and the children. “I still go there, park in the same place and watch my kids,” he says.

Munford’s interest in helping bring him back goes beyond representing the interests of constituents. He taught history in the School District for 35 years, until 2005.

During that time, he saw the district “lose compassion for people, for the public. It’s too big and the little guy, families, can’t be heard.”

Perone’s family also includes eight grandchildren who have attended Wasden. After all this time, he said, “I feel like I’ve been betrayed.”

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