A new crosswalk painted in front of Warren Easton Charter High School in 2017. Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

The Orleans Parish School Board this month approved spending $70,000 as part of a partnership with the city of New Orleans to improve safety for students traveling to and from school.

The money will fund a grant coordinator position, overseen by the city government, to coordinate and secure funding for the school system’s Safe Routes to School Program. 

The program is designed to increase safety for students going to and coming from school. It’s part of an array of steps the city has taken to increase school commute safety since 6-year-old Shaud Wilson was killed by a car in 2014 while crossing Paris Avenue to catch his school bus.

LaToya Cantrell, then a New Orleans city councilwoman, vowed to ensure school zones were clearly marked and, along with other councilmembers, said the council should do more to ensure schools safety. A transportation working group was formed, and in 2016 the city received two regional Safe Routes to School grants.

In the following years, Tulane University performed walking and biking audits outlining areas of improvement for the city. The Lens audited city school zone lights. In January 2015, just two out of every five school zone lights in the city worked properly. In 2017, the majority of lights were working properly. The city also added 135 crosswalks at 28 intersections near schools in 2017.

A 2018 city report detailed work completed by the program and also outlined safety concerns resulting from the city’s charter school system.

“The decentralized nature and lack of oversight of school transportation has resulted in a disjointed, structurally inefficient, and potentially dangerous transportation environment,” it stated.

The following year, after a handful of school bus accidents and cases of faulty insurance and buses failing to meet general safety standards revealed by WWLTV the city created an bus inspection system. It took months to fully implement the inspection program.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the Orleans Parish School Board approved the latest joint initiative with the city, which aims “to further the mission and goals of public safety and public education in identifying and improving upon the safety and traffic concerns that adversely impact students as they travel to and from school.”

In exchange for the $70,000, the city will hire and house a grant coordinator. The grant coordinator will create a citywide school safety plan and connect with schools that need help reviewing and expanding traffic and safety plans. The person will also work closely with infrastructure and coordinate training for school staff to learn how to educate students about traffic safety.

In previous years, the city has run a handful of programs under the Safe Routes to School umbrella. One trains physical education teachers to teach third through fifth grade students about traffic safety and also includes a bicycle loan program so schools can teach students to bike safely. Another program, called Crescent City Crossings, worked to provide crossing guards to schools. The most comprehensive program involved the creation of school-specific “travel safety plans.”

The city describes the safety plans as “data driven” and with “real strategies to improve procedures and messaging.” 

Safety plans are created based on walking audits, transportation counts, parent surveys and developing goals and strategies for intervention. In 2017, the city also focused specifically on schools along the heavily trafficked Claiborne Avenue Corridor. That year the program served 21 schools.

It’s unclear how many schools the program will serve in the upcoming year. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...