Essex crossing guard shortage raises safety concerns

Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 8:05 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - Walking to school is safer and easier thanks to crossing guards, but not every route has someone to help kids across the street. The Essex Westford School District needs four guards. Officials say they’ve also exhausted their list of part-time subs who have been working full time to get the job done.

On a gloomy school morning, crossing guard Bob Murtha brings the sunshine. Murtha has maned the intersection of Educational Drive and Drury Drive in Essex for an hour a day in the morning and the afternoon for the past six years.

“It’s a good gig, you know. If you retired or if you’re just bored, it’s an hour and you do see kids and they uplift you,” Murtha said.

He helps about 100 kids a day cross the street, rain or shine.

“I see ‘em in 10 degrees -- they’ll be walking, or snowstorm and they’ll be walking,” said Murtha.

Seeing Murtha creates peace of mind for parents like Kayla Tornello.

“I feel safer sending my 12-year-old who walks to and from school by himself every single day,” said Tornello.

But she says the shortage of guards is raising concerns.

“We were walking home and there was no crossing guard to cross 2A and it was really busy trying to get the cars to actually pay attention and stop was scary,” Tornello said.

There are 30 locations across the city and town that use guards. Garry Scott, the director of Facilities and Safety, says they’re not sure why it’s more challenging to fill the positions this year than in years past.

“We do have a sub list of people who don’t want to be full time but we’ve activated almost all of them to be full time. But we’re struggling to fill locations almost every day,” Scott said.

He says the guards play a large role in day-to-day activities. Not only are they able to help with all things safety, but they serve as a positive influence for students as the first and last people kids see at school every day. Without the spots filled, Scott says each guard will spend the coming weeks taking note of how many kids they cross.

“We’ll have to make some tough decisions on whether those intersections people are at consistently are really needed and should we reallocate resources,” he said.

But in the meantime, Bob Murtha continues on with his daily $25 an hour job.