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Holladay Journal

Summer school in session—crossing guard urges keeping kids safe by driving aware and following laws

Jul 06, 2021 03:17PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Substitute crossing guard Gene Panek is stationed just west of Fox Hills Elementary in Taylorsville, where he helps kids cross safely for summer programs. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Crossing guard Gene Panek says he is sad, but not surprised, when drivers carelessly whiz by his stop. Parked on a residential road just west of Fox Hills Elementary School in Taylorsville, Panek is substituting for the regular guard. He’s been a crossing guard for six years. 

“Ok, see that van?” Panek asks, pointing out a car that pulled through his corner. “That driver has kids in the car, so I think maybe she’s going to the school, probably for the summer meal program. She didn’t stop at the stop sign, she knows school is open and she was looking down at her phone as she turned,” Panek said.  

These are the kinds of things Panek sees all the time, and he’s concerned that they will end in an accident where a child is hurt.   

This summer, more than 9,000 students will be participating in summer programs at nearly every school site in Granite District. With that in mind, GSD urges drivers to please drive safely around school areas. That includes stopping at crosswalks, slowing down for flashing lights and generally being aware. 

“The traditional school year may have ended, but our schools are used through the summer for many things. Kids walk to and from school for breakfast and lunch, and summer school started June 7,” said Ben Horsley, communications director for GSD. 

Horsley said that nearly all of the district’s 90 sites have some sort of summer programming, so chances are good there are kids in your neighborhood walking to and from school or a bus stop each day. 

“Failure to drive responsibly around schools puts our students at risk. Vehicles must slow down in active school zones, follow the directions of crossing guards and be generally aware. 

“Please be on alert during morning and afternoon commutes. Pay attention to school buses that have their stop signs out or lights flashing. Please follow the directions of crossing guards and obey speed limits in school zones,” Horsley said. 

Panek said speeding and distractions from phones are big concerns. “On 6200 South cars just don’t slow down. They think the rules are for everyone else, not for them. There are some people who are conscientious. But others won’t stop even if I have a cone out or I’m in the middle of the crosswalk with my stop sign. I guess they’re oblivious,” Panek said. 

“I wish people would pay attention,” he continued. “I’ve seen people looking down, looking at their phones. They’re not looking ahead at all, or maybe they’ll glance up. They think on a [residential] road like this there’s no one. But it only takes a second to cause an accident.” 

School districts always have some programming during the summer, and several schools participate in meal programs (see for a full list). But Horsley said the numbers of students involved are up this summer.  

“It varies from site to site, but we have roughly 9,000 students district wide involved in some sort of summer programming. It’s almost twice as many as usual. 

“Many are in intense programs to make up class credit due to instruction missed during the pandemic. Some are participating in summer band or orchestra classes. And many are doing meal programs,” Horsley said. 

Panek has a few reminders for drivers to help keep kids in their communities safe. 

“Always stop completely at stop signs. Pay attention to flashing school zone lights, cones and speed limits. Put your phone away and look up. Stop 15 feet before a crosswalk. Wait until the crossing guard is completely out of the crosswalk before driving through, even when turning right.”  

Panek’s reminders and Horsley’s advice hit close to home: Horsley answered questions for the Journal after dropping off his child for a summer reading program.