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Salt Lake City Schools are short on crossing guards and bus drivers

A pedestrian crossing sign in the school zone on State Street looking north into downtown Salt Lake City, Aug. 22, 2023.
Martha Harris
A pedestrian crossing sign in the school zone on State Street looking north into downtown Salt Lake City, Aug. 22, 2023.

Without a driver, the wheels on the school bus can’t go round and round. This is precisely what the Salt Lake City School District is dealing with as students return to class. What’s more, there’s a shortage of crossing guards, too.

Both the district and the city are struggling to fill positions that help students get to and from school safely.

On the first day of school, Tuesday, Aug. 22, the district was able to cover all of the routes, but only because other employees with the correct license to drive a bus helped out. This includes a math teacher at Highland High School.

“In the morning, he arrives at the bus depot, picks up a bus, picks up students, teaches at Highland all day,” said district spokesperson Yándary Chatwin. “And then drives kids home and then gets his own car to go home for the day.”

The West High School football coach also drove on the first day. The district has a small pool of fill-in drivers, but the ideal would be dedicated bus drivers.

“We really want people to apply,” Chatwin said. “And if you don't have the right license, we will help you get that and we'll pay you for your training.”

The district needs to cover 68 bus routes but currently only has 61 drivers. With the shortage, Chatwin said they’ll alert families if there are delays.

Unlike the bus drivers, crossing guards are directly employed by Salt Lake City. Robert Ridge, who oversees the city’s crossing guard program, said he only has about 57 guards right now but needs around 75 to be fully staffed. If Ridge can get more than that, he said even better.

When there aren’t enough guards to staff all of the city’s school crossings, Ridge will sometimes cover a shift or call on certain city employees to help out. If they still don’t have enough, Ridge said he’ll let the school know and they’ll typically send out someone from the school’s office to cover.

It’s better to have one person regularly covering the same crossing though, Ridge said, because each crossing has its own “intricacies.” If someone is at the same crossing every day, they know what to look out for.

“Having people jump around and doing a bunch of different stuff, it can just cause some confusion.” And as Ridge sees it, “confusion between kids and cars just has a higher potential for not having a good outcome.”

If the same guard is always there, kids will get to know that guard and trust them.

“They're going to listen to you without question. They know you're there and looking out for their safety,” Ridge said.

Chatwin is asking Salt Lake City drivers to slow down and be cautious now that school has started.

“We’re changing the flow of traffic as we’re having children crossing the street and getting to school. And these are our children, it’s our city. It’s on all of us to make sure we’re looking out for them,” Chatwin said.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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