Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

In wake of accident, Hernando schools need to improve nearby crossings

The Hernando school district is not required to protect students from the moment they leave home until they step inside the classroom.

It does not have to provide transportation to children who are within a reasonably short walk or bike ride of school. It cannot possibly guarantee that every child follows every traffic law.

Here's what it does have to do:

Make sure students required to walk have a way to do so safely. Ensure that they know these safe routes and the rules of the road. Provide extra protection — crosswalks, school zones and crossing guards — where pedestrian traffic is heaviest and most hazardous.

This all comes up, of course, because Derek Kruis, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, was seriously injured last week when he was struck by a van while walking to Spring Hill's Explorer K-8 School — and because some parents and neighbors are now asking the district to reinstate its policy of busing children who live less that 2 miles from their schools.

Last year, Derek caught a bus near his house east of Mariner Boulevard. This year, he has walked nearly a mile to school and was struck as he crossed Landover Boulevard, a block from Explorer's back entrance.

He is due to leave the hospital soon, said his stepfather, Derrell Canada, but his left hip, leg and ankle were shattered in the accident. Derek, an active kid who played on the Explorer football team, is expected to face a long rehabilitation and may never regain full use of his leg.

"That's iffy," Canada said.

"I knew it was going to happen," a resident who lives near the site of the accident told the Times last week. "I knew a kid was going to get hit."

That's a safe prediction, because they are hit every year, said school superintendent Bryan Blavatt. There have been the same number of accidents so far this school year as each of the previous two, he said.

Still, there's no doubt the district has a problem.

Florida was built for cars, and the streets of our urban areas are notoriously dangerous for cyclists and walkers.

They are doubly dangerous for teenagers, who are notorious for not following rules. Every morning, I drive my son to Springstead High School along Landover. On my right is a sidewalk that leads to a supervised crossing. On the left I see students walking through yards and sometimes on the side of the road, terrifyingly close to a steady stream of cars and trucks.

Derek, likewise, had access to a safe route — Northcliffe Boulevard, with a sidewalk and a crossing guard at the front entrance to the school. He took the back way and, according the Florida Highway Patrol, crossed in front of the van at an intersection without a stop sign or crosswalk.

But go to the scene of the accident and it's pretty clear more should have been done to make it safe.

This stretch of Landover is extremely busy during rush hour, Canada said. Even if it's a block from the school property, it seems reasonable to at least explore his suggestion: making this a school zone with a lower speed limit.

And way back in October, Explorer principal John Stratton said he had asked for another crossing guard for the rear entrance of his school. Not at the intersection where Derek was struck, but close, which to me shows the district knew this general area could be trouble.

No, schools don't need to bus every child. They do need to do more to educate children of all ages about safety. And if there are spots where neighbors can reasonably predict that a child will be struck by a car, the district needs to find them and fix them.

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