Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bureaucratic Indifference

As some of you who follow me on facebook and twitter know, I have been in a state of blind fury the last couple of days. I'd like to tell everyone what's been going on.

Oldest is 11 and in 5th grade. She is a volunteer Safety Patrol which means she wears a yellow belt and a badge and she makes sure the kids board the bus safely and behave on the bus. She also makes sure to take the kindergartners to and from the bus. That's her job. Except our bus stop is on a very heavily congested road with heavy rush hour traffic in the morning. We deal with speeders, honkers, jerks who try to beat the school bus, a very large elderly driving population, and lots of mercedes drivers. This is a very unsafe road. On top of this, even after 10 years of complaints, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has never done anything to address this situation even though there is no safe way for the kids to cross this dangerous street. There is no stop sign - no crosswalk. Ironically, there is a no left and no right turn on an intersecting street that goes into a nearby neighborhood. That sign was put up in order to protect the property value of that neighborhood because (1) the traffic on our street is so heavy that it would devalue the neighborhood and destroy the streets, and (2) a councilmember lives there. When some crazy vandal destroyed these signs 3 times last year, DOT sent a crew to fix that sign within days of it happening.

As you can see DOT values property value over children's safety. So getting back to my story. A parent who was nearly hit several times crossing the street with her young child harassed DOT so much that they finally sent an employee to our school bus stop to assess the situation. This woman went up to my 11 year old daughter and told her that it was her job as safety patrol to walk into the middle of oncoming rush hour traffic, hold up her hands and stop traffic in order to allow children to cross to the bus stop safely. Since when did we send children into danger to guarantee the safety of other children? Should we next give them a gun and tell them to stop crime also? This is a street even adults are afraid to cross, let alone try to actively stop traffic? Did I mention that we had an excessive number of mercedes drivers in the area? We have incredibly selfish assholes who will even race around a stopped school bus in order to not get stuck behind it. We are talking about people who don't care. And I should let my child walk into that?

What is most troubling about this episode is not that this county employee was so deeply misguided enough to endanger a child's life, but that in response to repeated attempts by parents to address the danger surrounding this school bus stop that this was the only response.

This employee told the complaining parent to have my daughter stop traffic for her. The parent was misguided enough to - the very next day - follow through on the employee's advice and tried to wave my daughter into oncoming traffic. I actually stood flabbergasted watching her insist my daughter come out into the street and my daughter shaking her head, over and over until finally the woman crossed on her own. My daughter knows that she is not allowed to cross this street and refused to do as the county employee demanded even though she was terribly intimidated by this woman. My daughter knew enough to stand her ground. But what if it was a different child who maybe was too naive to question authority? What if this employee had indeed persuaded a child to walk into traffic? That idea kept me awake at night.

I've made a big stink and called and wrote to everyone I could think of. Today the supervisor of the misguided employee came to observe and to apologize for the employee's mistake. They say that there are talks of getting stop signs in and crosswalks. I'm not holding my breath. Already I'm being given the bureaucratic run around in an endless game of hot potato as different offices pass the issue off to someone else. I've spent nearly a week making my arguments. I've warned the county of their negligence for failure to address the danger. I reminded them that legally there is a higher duty of care toward children. In the end, getting a stop sign and crosswalk in place will be much cheaper. And it will help save lives. Unfortunately, in these situations, it usually takes a death to justify the expense of change. And that is depressing.


Charles Gramlich said...

The employee who first told your daughter to go into traffic needs to be moved from that position before she gets someone killed! Geeze.

Bernita said...

"Unfortunately, in these situations, it usually takes a death to justify the expense of change."

Sadly, that is so true.
Ello, this is a truly horrifying situation.
"Blind fury" would be my chief emotion also.
One gathers they ignore the threat of a lawsuit.
And I am so proud of your daughter for standing her ground, literally.

Spy Scribbler said...

Oh man! First, I'm so proud of your daughter! That had to be hard. And secondly, keep stinking! Yours is a righteous anger and I hope it gets the job done.

Good luck!

Jeanne Ryan (Serenissima) said...

Wow, just reading your post made me see red. Bravo to your daughter for standing up to that woman! Good luck getting the city to do the right thing!

Angie said...

Oh, good grief. :/ Someone needs to smack that county employee upside the head, seriously. I mean, duh, if cars could always be counted on to stop for the safety patrol kid, then they could probably be counted on to stop for any kid and there wouldn't be an issue, right? Some people need a jumpstart to the synapses, clearly.

Keep hassling people, hon. The much greater cost to the county if/when a child gets hit and injured or killed, after all this fuss which clearly shows the county was notified of a dangerous situation, which puts them firmly responsible, should get through to someone. :/


PJD said...

The principal of the school and the PTA need to feel ownership here as well. I think that's what has made the street around my kids' school much safer since we moved in. I have many complaints about our principal, but she does support the PTA in keeping the drop off/pick up safe. She even comes out and observes most afternoons as the kids get picked up. We have PTA parents that will distribute flyers to any adults they can regarding the traffic laws and safety concerns.

We are fortunate in that about 80% of the traffic during rush hour is school related, and another 10% is people who live in the neighborhood and probably know kids who go to school here. So the school community is able to step up and apply some local control.

It also helps that one very attractive PTA mom is very chummy with a particular motorcycle cop, and for a few years he would come and just park his butt in front of the school. In four years I saw him issue maybe five tickets, but his presence alone made people slow down and think about what they were doing.

Good luck with your local government. The only thing that moves them is persistent nagging or a groundswell of voter anger.

ssas said...

Our school uses local firemen to help out at the crosswalks at least once a week. Just the uniforms and the walkietalkies seem to slow everyone down. (Not to mention the hot firefighters.)

I have a fifth grader also and I'd be all over this had it happened to my kid. Here our CDOT is state run. Can you contact your state reps? Also, call the papers. Seriously. Make a story of it. Bad press wins out!

Good luck!

JaneyV said...

Ellen I would seriously call local news if you get the run-around. I agree with Peter that involving the PTA and having the weight of the school behind you would also be helpful. In the meanwhile take picture and video footage of the traffic at school p/u and drop off. If you do have to litigate in order to get things done it'll help. Also if you can befriend a traffic cop and borrow a speed gun to get an average speed reading on an average school day you'll have enough physical evidence to prove your case.

I am horrified at the crass stupidity of that DOT employee. She physically enticed your child into danger and that is morally reprehensible (and probably very shaky legally too). Well done to Oldest for knowing the right thing to do and good job to you for teaching her so well.

Sage Ravenwood said...

I agree with Charles, the person responsible for such ill gotten advise should be removed. Apparently said person, wasn't a parent.

I truly despise the manner in which these people are handling this situation. Nothing has ever been accomplished by passing on responsibility to someone else.

I'm so sorry you have to deal with these idiots and thankful your daughter knew enough in this case not to listen. (Hugs)Indigo

March2theSea said...

good job to little Ello!

out of the wordwork said...

Un. Fricking. Believable.
Good for your daughter for standing her ground. You taught her well.
Keep up the fight.

Cheryl Kauffman said...

You should do an ireport on CNN and email Nancy Grace. This is an election year so you should be able to get someone's attention.

Anonymous said...
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Larissa said...

OMG, Ellen! That's horrible! Why don't they have crossing guards? Have you thought about getting the local news involved? My local news station would be all over something like this...

Keep fighting. We're behind you!

Lily Cate said...

What the...!?!
So they are basically asking your 11year old daughter to do the same job as a traffic cop, or a signman on a construction crew, jobs that are considered extremely hazardous...that's insane.
Where do we send the angry letters?

My mother lives on a very busy road with a 35 mph speed limit, but because it is also a main thoroughfare, people treat it like an interstate highway. There are also a ridiculous number of speeders on our local county highway, even though I have never driven that road and NOT seen someone pulled over. People just think they are that important.

Kimbra Kasch said...

I'm proud of your daughter for standing her ground.

That's the only good thing I can think of in this horrible situation.

laughingwolf said...

we had similar incidents, but with elderly school crossing guards with stop signs in hand... a child still got killed before they put in crosswalks, WITH crossing guards during school hours

lotsa lawsuits followed the death...

make it a criminal offense to pass a school bus with flashing lights, before anyone is killed

good for oldest, very wise at 11!

Lana Gramlich said...

You could always try contacting the local newspaper & or TV news...They might be willing to throw a spotlight on this for you. Absolutely asinine, how this has been handled!

Rena Jones said...

The death part is sadly true. That's usually what it takes. You're doing the right thing, Ellen. Keep raising hell. And like the others, I'd suggest calling the local TV stations and papers. Sometimes it takes that kind of heat to get something done.

And big kudos to your daughter!!!

Chris Eldin said...
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Dana Elmendorf said...

I plan to tell my nine year old son about this story because I want him to know the right thing to do. So many times in our life we force children to ignore that inner voice that says "something is just not right here." aka intuition. I hope my son stands up for himself the same as your daughter.

Good luck in your fight. It's a shame it has to be a fight. BTW...I am curious, the employee that told your daughter to get in the middle of the street, do they have children? If so, even worse.

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