Local Government and Politics, News, Police/Fire

Lynn parents, citing safety concerns, call for more crossing guards at elementary schools

Catherine Pahlm, right, is a crossing guard at the Callahan Elementary School on O'Callaghan Way in Lynn. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Parents are calling for more crossing guards at the district’s elementary schools, citing concerns for the safety of their children with some dangerous intersections unmanned and about an aging population that oversees the schools’ students for arrival and dismissal.

In 2004, there were 96 crossing guards overseeing students crossing at the district’s 19 elementary schools. Lynn Police Capt. James Flynn was school safety officer at the time and had to cut that number down to 42 because of budget constraints, according to Officer Anne Magner, who took over the position from Flynn in 2006.

At the time, Magner said Flynn had to prioritize where the lower number of crossing guards should go, based on where it was the most dangerous for parents and children to cross the road.

Now, because of illness and injury, there are only 38 crossing guards stationed between the schools, meaning some areas may be unmanned. Or, Magner said that creates a situation where some guards may be pulling double duty, going from one school to another.

School Committee member Michael Satterwhite said parent concerns have ranged from some crossing guards not showing up to the job or not being at certain places throughout the city, with some concerned about their age.

The workforce is an older one, as often they’re retired and it’s a part-time job for them. The job is not for everyone, as crossing guards work one hour in the morning for arrival and an hour in the afternoon for dismissal, and are out in the heat, cold and all extreme weather conditions. Their pay is $13 an hour, according to Magner.

“We understand the frustration a lot of parents have,” said Lynn Police Lt. Peter Holey, head of the department’s youth services unit. “Certainly every parent wants and probably deserves to have a crossing guard at their school.”

Holey said the problem is that the school population has grown since 2004 when the amount of crossing guards was more than cut in half. Although he wouldn’t characterize that as creating an unsafe situation, he said it did create a concerning one.

“Crossing guards are an integral part of the safety of the schools,” Magner said. “It’s a dangerous job. It’s money and manpower that we’re up against with hiring more. Would I like to have more? I could probably name off 10 locations now that I would like to have (monitored by crossing guards).”

The crossing guards are overseen by the Lynn Police Department and are paid out of the police budget. The current budget for 42 crossing guards is $231,000, and it would cost $528,000 to get the workforce back up to 96, Holey said.

With respect to their age and fitness, Magner said the crossing guards have to go through a CORI, or background check, every year and have to reapply annually. In addition, guards 70 and older have to get a doctors’ note clearing them for the job.

Catherine Pahlm, 68, has been a crossing guard for four years and was stationed on O’Callaghan Way outside Callahan Elementary School on Monday afternoon for dismissal. She doesn’t see age as being an issue with the workforce, explaining that if someone couldn’t do the job, they wouldn’t.

In fact, she said there’s been cases where younger people try the job, but don’t stick with it because they can’t handle the cold.

The job is rewarding, Pahlm said, citing the socializing she gets to do with the kids, but it can be a dangerous one. Drivers are in too much of a hurry and don’t stop for kids or parents. Her predecessor for the Callahan post was hit by a car four times.

“Wherever we work, it’s dangerous because they don’t stop,” Pahlm said. “They say they don’t see you. You’ve got to watch out. You’ve got to have four eyes.”

Pahlm is the only crossing guard at Callahan, but says another one is not needed at the school. She would like to see more crossing guards on Summer Street, explaining kids just cross by themselves if there isn’t one around.

Parents posting on Facebook have called for more oversight at areas including the corner of Broadway and Magnolia Avenue and the intersection of Brookline and Chatham streets, with one person calling the latter intersection “a horror show.”

But it’s not just the safety aspect crossing guards bring. Pahlm likes interacting with the kids and dresses up for them on Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

“You see the relationships the crossing guards do build with the students, high fives, just the way they interact with the kids while they’re crossing the street,” Satterwhite said. “They can be in a horrible environment at home, a negative environment at home and once they get to school, the crossing guard knows their name … and that is what’s needed in these kids’ lives.”

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