In November, two young students at Riverdale Elementary School — 10-year-old Shalom Mbah and 5-year-old Sky Sosa — were in the crosswalk on Riverdale and Taylor Road when they were struck and killed by a driver making a left turn. The crosswalk had no crossing guard.
Weeks after the tragedy, parent leaders have come together to demand action from Prince George’s County lawmakers.
In a letter backed by parent-led groups from 11 county schools, the leaders warn county officials about the dangers of pedestrian safety around the schools and the risks unfilled crossing guard positions can bring.
“You can’t ask families to walk to and from school, and then not give them safe streets,” said Timothy Meyer, President of the Mt. Rainier Elementary PTO. “Giving our kids safe routes to and from school is going to require real, long-term commitment from public officials.”
Part of that long-term commitment includes safety workers.
“Crossing guards [are] a very important part of the equation,” Meyer said. “We want to be partners with the county, we want to be part of the solution.”
According to 7News, more than 80 vacant crossing guard positions remain unfilled around Prince George’s County.
“It’s a difficult position to fill,” Meyer said. “It is a part-time job, it’s relatively low pay, it’s kind of obscure hours.”
However, he said, parents are telling lawmakers that if money is a roadblock in hiring more crossing guards, to “figure out money elsewhere in the budget.”
“Every cost is always an obstacle. But budgets are a matter of priorities and there’s no good greater priority than the safety of our kids. Try telling that to the parents of those two kids from Riverdale that you didn’t have enough money to hire crossing guards,” Meyer said.
The letter from parents read in part, “We are tired of excuses, and this tragedy in Riverdale proves our kids can’t wait. Doing everything possible to protect the safety of our students, teachers and staff is not a choice. It is the core responsibility of every leader in Prince George’s County. This failure of leadership must never happen again.”
The letter goes on to highlight three main action items, first calling on the Prince George’s Police Department to “take immediate action and fill all vacant crossing guard positions by January 1, 2024 or sooner. If more funding is required in order to offer the increased competitive pay and benefits needed to successfully fill these positions, we urge county officials to provide it.”
If police cannot make it happen, parents call on PGPD “to immediately coordinate with local governments and PGCPS to provide unspent funds so municipalities and PGCPS can recruit, hire and pay their own crossing guards on an emergency basis.”
“Every school community is unique and specific needs may vary, but this crisis is universal: these positions must be filled now,” the group said. “This would allow the county and PGCPS to assign crossing guards to schools in unincorporated areas, while allowing local municipalities to fill guard positions with residents from and most invested in their own communities. Provide grants to local governments, draft MOUs, work out some other arrangement — but get the job done.”
Organizations backing this letter include Mount Rainier Elementary School PTO, Thomas S. Stone Elementary School PTO Executive Board, Hyattsville Elementary School PTA, UPES PTA Board, César Chávez Dual Spanish Immersion School PTO Executive Board, Hyattsville Middle School PTSO, Glenarden Woods Elementary School PTA Executive Board, Buck Lodge Middle School PTO, Cherokee Lane Elementary School PTO, Greenbelt Elementary School PTA Board and Eleanor Roosevelt High School PTSA.
In a Tuesday City Council meeting, the letter was unanimously backed by the city of Mt. Rainier.
Meyer said the letter was received by several county leaders.
County officials haven’t said if vacant crossing guard positions will be filled by the Jan. 1, 2024 deadline.