After a few impatient drivers zip past students who haven’t cleared the intersection, a white Dodge Ram turns left onto Wilson Ave. in front of Pierre Laporte Middle School, blowing through a red light.
It’s been less than 20 minutes since the final bell, and Principal Paolo Peloso has already witnessed at least three drivers making dangerous manoeuvres at an intersection bustling with students.
“Even this morning, I was out there again and I saw two girls crossing . . . and a car just zooms in front. They had to stop in order to avoid being hit,” Peloso said.
The school of about 400 students applied to have a crossing guard before summer holiday. It’s one of at least 49 schools waiting for an assessment by Toronto Police, who administer the crossing guard program.
Peloso and Vice-Principal Arlene Wheeler have made a point of coming out to monitor before- and after-school traffic at Wilson Ave. and Julian Rd., just west of Keele St. The area has seen an influx of traffic now that construction is complete at the new Humber River Hospital, located across the street from the school, on the south side of Wilson Ave.
Last Friday, on only the fourth day of the new school year, a Grade 7 student was struck by a car about two kilometres west of Pierre Laporte while crossing Wilson Ave. on her way to school.
The school sent a letter to parents informing them of the incident, but some parents had already voiced concerns about the intersection to Peloso last school year.
Though the student was not seriously injured, Peloso believes the incident underscores the need to have a crossing guard at the intersection as soon as possible.
“We don’t want to wait until somebody gets hurt,” Peloso said.
Because the school only runs three buses, most students take transit or get picked up by parents. Peloso said the hospital’s opening has increased TTC traffic on Wilson Ave., including a new stop in front of the school, which is more convenient for students.
Councillor Maria Augimeri, of Ward 9 York Centre, has worked with Pierre Laporte and other schools in her ward on getting crossing guards, and said she believes the program should be administered by the city.
Toronto Police have been running the program since 1947. According to the 2017 police budget, it costs $8.59 million to administer the program.
Const. Derrick Martin, a school crossing guard co-ordinator with Toronto Police Traffic Services, said the city will be taking over the program “very soon.”
Applications for a school crossing guard are currently received by the office of the police chief and then sent out to the divisions, which then conduct a daylong traffic assessment. These assessments are done in the order the applications are received and not triaged based on public safety, Martin told the Star. At Pierre Laporte, this assessment is slated for the beginning of 2018.
“This is typical,” said Martin of the wait time for a guard. “All the requests usually come around the beginning of the school year and then they taper off.”
There are about 600 to 700 crossing guards who are usually paid to work three hours a day, and cover the morning, after-school and lunch hours. The guards are hired and trained by police, and considered civilian employees.
When crossing guards are absent from duty, police officers are dispatched to fill in.
“The community welcomed the GTA’s largest hospital into our ward knowing that we would have some challenges,” Councillor Augimeri said. She credits Peloso and Wheeler, the “dynamic duo” at Pierre Laporte, for making safety a priority as they await a decision on a crossing guard.
“They are the most outstanding staff I’ve ever witnessed,” she said.