Barnwell schools undergoing safety assessment

  • Barnwell Elementary Principal Dr. Carolyn Anderson holds up the next line of cars waiting for children until the line in front finishes.

There were more than the usual number of eyes overseeing the arrival and dismissal of students at Barnwell Elementary recently.

Normally 17 adults, usually BES teachers and staffers, oversee the loading and unloading of children from buses and cars. On Oct. 13, there were an additional 13 people.

The school is participating in a safety assessment through the S.C. Safe Routes To School organization in conjunction with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Controls; Eat Smart, Move More South Carolina and Axis 1 Center of Barnwell County. Doris Ford, the Safe Routes school outreach coordinator, is leading the assessment.

More than 500 BES students arrive or depart the school in a delicate dance of buses, cars and children occurring twice a day. Dr. Carolyn Anderson, in her first year as the new BES principal, wants it to be a cautious choreography – always.

Soon after coming to BES, Anderson had concerns about arrivals and dismissals and feared an unseen child might get hit, especially if walking between vehicles. Previously the principal at Macedonia Elementary School in Blackville, Anderson secured a grant through S.C. Safe Routes To Schools because of the haphazard way children were dropped off and picked up, she said.

Also, Barnwell Elementary doesn’t have a crossing guard to help students across busy S.C. 3 in front of the school, Anderson said.

The Blackville grant helped Macedonia Elementary get high visibility safety vests for adults on car/bus duty, signaling devices, traffic cones and revamp how students arrive and leave the school.

Now Anderson wants similar improvements at Barnwell Elementary, she said.

“But first, I wanted to observe things before I change anything,” she said.

Hence the safety assessment.

Some of the other observers were from DHEC, Macedonia Elementary, a BES parent and Barnwell 45 School District officials.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” said Neal Martin, the supervisor over the DHEC occupant protection program. “But you don’t want a tragedy to happen before they start paying attention.”

Clipboard in hand, Martin stood near the carpool line. He said “49 kids left the school unrestrained” or not wearing a seat belt of the about 200 BES car riders dismissed that afternoon.

“Here (on school property) it’s not enforceable, but down there it is,” Martin said of seat belt laws as he pointed toward S.C. 3.

Martin noticed other safety problems such as drivers distracted by cell phones or texting. It’s illegal to text and drive in the state. Another potential problem is an unrestrained pet in the car, which adds another distraction – or worse.

In a wreck, an unbelted 50- to 100-pound pet becomes a missile crashing around inside a tumbling car, he said.

“A lot of fatalities in a wreck are not from the wreck itself, but things inside the car,” Martin said.

Passengers propping their feet up on the dashboard is another bad habit. In a wreck, a passenger’s side air bag deploys at a speed of 200 mph, which could cause serious harm to a passenger sitting too close to the air bag for it to be effective, he said.

Ideally, children up to 4-feet, 8-inches tall and 80 pounds should be in some type of booster seat to be effectively secured across the shoulder and waist by a car’s seat belt. Many car owners don’t realize a vehicle’s seat belt has manual adjustments for bigger children and smaller adults, he said.

In Barnwell County, the fine for not having a child properly restrained in a car can be up to $155, according to the Barnwell County Magistrate’s Office.

Deputy Rodney Brown, the BES school resource officer, made similar observations of unused seat belts, distracting cell phone usage and too much stuff in cars that gets in the way of using a seat belt, he said.

A report on the elementary school’s traffic safety assessment should be ready in about two weeks, Ford said.

Barnwell Primary will have a similar assessment done Oct. 21. Pam Rush, with Eat Smart, Move More Barnwell County and the Axis 1 Center of Barnwell County, is trying to schedule an assessment for Guinyard-Butler Middle School.