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Crossing guard transition going well

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Angela Mitchell and Dondre Yohe stop traffic in front of Escanaba High School Wednesday afternoon while students cross Lincoln Road using the crosswalk. The Escanaba Public Safety Department took over crossing guard duties at the beginning of the school year.

ESCANABA — After approximately 50 years of being under the employ of the Escanaba School District, current school crossing guards now work for the Escanaba Public Safety Department. Crossing guards were trained before the school year and now stand in front of each school building aiding students in crossing the street.

In a decision based on Michigan law, the Escanaba School District requested the city of Escanaba take over crossing guard duties earlier this year.

Dondre Yohe, a new crossing guard, takes classes at Bay de Noc Community College when he is not on duty at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Lincoln Road, in front of the Escanaba High School.

“I really like it. I’m going to be an educator when I’m older: although I’m working technically for the police, I’m able to see kids every day and able to build some relationships while just talking to them less than 30 seconds most of the time,” said Yohe.

He mentioned the most unusual thing he has seen since starting the job in late August was a three-car accident a couple weeks ago.

“It was pretty stressful after that,” he said. “Traffic was backed up, crossing was really, really difficult.”

Each crossing guard was instructed by Escanaba Public Safety on how to properly aid students in crossing the street before practicing on a side road and then assigned a post.

Angela Mitchell is also a first-year crossing guard. She works at St. Francis Hospital and fills in as a crossing guard.

“We’re here to get the kids across safe,” said Mitchell.

She noted students should stay within the crosswalk and walk their bikes across the street, not ride them, when crossing.

Previously, Escanaba Area Public Schools employed crossing guards. The change came about through Escanaba Superintendent Coby Fletcher, who was looking for ways to reduce the district’s budget after a second request for a sinking fund was voted down. He came across a Michigan Vehicle Code that read – “school crossing guards shall be the responsibility of the local law enforcement agency, having immediate jurisdiction of the crossing.” At the time, crossing guards were under the employ of the school district instead of the city of Escanaba. The city was reimbursing the school district for the rate per hour paid to the guards, but there were other concerns.

In a meeting Feb. 11, the Escanaba School Board spoke with Escanaba City Manager Patrick Jordan and Public Safety Director Rob LaMarche about the concerns they had employing the guards. Jordan’s concern of being short-staffed was brought forward. Fletcher was concerned the school district was taking on something that was best left to the law enforcement agency. The board expressed a concern about the school’s liability if an accident happened with a crossing guard while under the school district’s employment.

In December 2018, it was brought to Fletcher’s attention crossing guards wanted an increase in pay due to the hazards of the job. During Fletcher’s discussions with other school districts at the time, he found Escanaba paid more than other school districts. No documents were found explaining why the crossing guard job was provided by the school district. In a separate meeting it was decided the city would take back the work of the crossing guard.

“We’re appreciative of the smooth handoff we’ve had with the city,” Fletcher said. “They’re providing great service and are doing a fine job helping keep our kids safe as they travel to and from school.”

Both Fletcher and LaMarche think the shift of crossing guards from the school to the city has gone well.

“Like with any new adventure, there are always a few growing pains,” said LaMarche. “Overall, we have a great group of crossing guards and it’s going about as well as I could have hoped for.”

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