They work outside in rain, sleet and snow, keeping our most precious commodity — our children — safe.
School crossing guards are unsung heroes. Underappreciated — and sometimes ignored by motorists — they put their lives on the line every day. And they are at constant risk of injury or even death caused by drivers who disregard them.
How does a crossing guard get hit? Maybe someone is late getting somewhere. Or they have others in the car distracting them. Or maybe they’re simply impatient. The reasons matter little when the outcome is devastating.
Most people would say they’ve never heard of a crossing guard getting hurt on the job. But that’s what happened two weeks ago in Glen Cove, when a guard, attempting to stop traffic to allow children to cross a street near an elementary school, was hit by an SUV.
He remains in critical condition. And he’s not alone.
It’s difficult to find statistics on how many crossing guards are injured on the job each year, because most data focuses more on the children and pedestrians they protect. But one of the most common causes of injury, according to the New York State School Boards Association, is being hit by vehicles’ side mirrors. And those can be significant injuries.
Crossing guards have been killed — even on Long Island. One in Hempstead died in 2016 when he was hit by a truck. And there were two separate incidents in California last year when crossing guards were struck by SUVs and died.
A child was hit, too, in one of the California tragedies, but survived. In the other, the crossing guard pushed a group of children away from the pathway of an oncoming vehicle.
In February, a crossing guard in Maryland was struck by an SUV and killed after pushing a child out of the way.
All of these guards were nothing less than heroes. But why does this even happen? Are people on their cellphones, talking or texting? Are they changing the channel on their car radio? Arguing with another passenger? How are they so distracted that they fail to see a human being wearing reflective clothing in the middle of the street with an arm outstretched, directing them to stop?
It remains unclear why the 82-year-old Bayville driver hit the Glen Cove crossing guard on Oct. 6. He remained at the scene after the accident, and he had yet to be charged criminally this week, as police continued to investigate.
It isn’t hard to become a crossing guard. In Nassau County, anyone who’s at least 18 and doesn’t have a criminal record can apply. No experience is required. But as one police officer said, a crossing guard needs to be someone who likes children.
A city police department, like Glen Cove, handles the hiring. In the villages, it’s the purview of the Nassau County Police Department.
In some parts of the country, school crossing guards receive health insurance, but not in Nassau County. Their working schedule is 90 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon, when children are on their way to, and then dismissed from, school. The unusual hours set this job apart from typical part-time work, and it’s hard to hold down another job at the same time.
Police say that while many guards are retirees, college students also take on the work. They take the job seriously, no matter their background.
Crossing guards obviously are important — our schoolchildren need to be kept safe — and there is a shortage. Where they are needed but not available, police officers, or members of the auxiliary police, take their place.
Guards do more than help children safely cross the street. They remind drivers of the presence of pedestrians, and just as important, they help children develop the skills to cross streets safely on their own in the future.
So the next time you see a school crossing guard, give them a wave of gratitude — after you stop, without anger or impatience, reminding yourself that you’ll get where you need to go eventually. That extra minute or two can save the lives of not only our children, but also the heroes standing in the middle of the street each weekday morning and afternoon, doing their utmost to keep those kids safe.