Sheriff: Think 'Safety' for Back to School

Motorists be aware

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By Monique Williams

Columbia, S.C. (RCSD/WOLO) -- Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott is asking motorists to be on their guard as school gets back in full swing. Sheriff Leon Lot reminds citizens that students are headed back to school and to be mindful of students walking and those riding school buses; dangers exist, he says, in and around school zones.

At a press briefing this morning, Sheriff Lott admonished drivers, adults and guardians to focus on school safety not only in terms of an armed gunman coming to a school, but also in terms of students getting safely to ad from school. To that end, Lott is providing School Resource Officers to every school and the full service of Richland County Sheriff’s Department to the school zones, communities, and business areas. Traffic Safety Deputies, Patrol Deputies, and Community Action Team Deputies will again pay special attention to school zones as the children go back to school. However, he claims, officers cannot do their jobs without the help and cooperation of the community.

Dr. Debbie Hamm, Richland School District Two stated, “The greatest priority in Richland Two is safety. Safety affects community, character, learning and joy – the four areas of emphasis in Richland Two. As children return to school, we urge everyone to be safe on the roads and around our schools."

Interim Richland District One Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Cash-Greene stated, "Today is the first day of the new school year in Richland One and we are excited to welcome our students back to school. As the new school year begins, we join Sheriff Lott and our colleagues from Richland Two in urging motorists to drive with caution around school buses, slow down in school zones and watch out for students walking or riding their bikes. We want all of our students to get to and from school safely every day,"

Sheriff Lott stated that all drivers need to recognize the special needs of pedestrians, especially those that are children. While pedestrians have the right-of-way at all intersections you as a driver are obligated to exercise great caution to watch for our children; they are the least predictable and the most difficult to see. Take extra care going through school zones, playgrounds, parks, and residential neighborhoods. he noted it is illegal to pass a school bus that has stopped to load or unload children and that the law requires that traffic in both directions stop on undivided roadways when students are entering or exiting a school bus; in all cases, traffic behind the school bus (traveling in the same direction) must stop.

The area 10 feet around a school bus is where children are in the most danger of being hit. Make sure you stop your vehicle far enough from the bus to allow children the necessary space to safely enter and exit the bus. Watch for unpredictable children walking/running to or from the bus, some youngsters may not look both ways, or ignore hazards when crossing the street.

Sheriff Leon Lott shares these safety tips for parents and guardians:

1. Instruct your children to always take a friend, always stay in well-lit areas, never take shortcuts, and never go into isolated areas. Teach them to stay aware of their surroundings and observe all traffic rules in place to more safely share the roads and sidewalks with others.

2. Walk the route to and from school with your children pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they're being followed or need help. Make the walk to and from school a "teachable moment" and chance to put their skills to the test. Make a map with your children showing acceptable routes to and from school. If your children wait for a bus, wait with them or make arrangements for supervision at the bus stop.

3. If anyone bothers your children or makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused, while going to or from school, teach your children to trust their feelings, immediately get away from that person, and tell you or another trusted adult. If an adult approaches your children for help or directions, remember grownups needing help should not ask children for help; they should ask other adults. Instruct your children to never accept money or gifts from anyone unless you have told them it is okay to accept in each instance.

4. Even though there can be safety in numbers it is still not safe for young children to walk to and from school, especially if they must take isolated routes anytime during the day or in darkness. Always provide supervision for your young children to help ensure their safe arrival to and from school.

5. Instruct your children to leave items and clothing with their name on them at home. If anyone calls out their name, teach them to not be fooled or confused. Teach your children about the tricks someone may try to use to confuse them or engage them in conversation. Children should also be taught that they do not need to be polite if approached and to get out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible.

6. Ensure current and accurate emergency contact information is on file for your children at their school. If you, or another trusted family member or friend, need to pick your children up, make sure to follow the school's departure procedures. These procedures need to include the school's confirmation of your children's departure with only those you authorize to pick them up.

7. Teach your children if anyone tries to take them somewhere they should quickly get away and yell, "This person is trying to take me away" or "This person is not my father/mother/guardian." Teach your children to make a scene and every effort to get away by kicking, screaming, and resisting if anyone tries to grab them.

8. Teach your children if anyone follows them on foot to get away from that person as quickly as possible. If anyone follows them in a vehicle they should turn around, go in the other direction, and try to quickly get to a spot where a trusted adult may help them. Advise them to be sure to tell you or another trusted adult what happened.

9. Instruct your children to never leave school with anyone until they've checked with a trusted adult. If anyone tells them there is an emergency and they want your children to go with them, teach your children to always check first with you before doing anything. Also teach your children to always check first with you if they want to change their plans before or after school. Make sure your children always play with other children, have your permission to play in specific areas, and let you know where they are going to be. Instruct your children to tell a trusted adult if they notice anyone they don't know or feel uncomfortable with hanging around them.

10. In the event your children may be lost or injured, make sure they carry a contact card with your name and telephone numbers such as work and cellular. This card should be hidden from plain view.

Just a reminder that SRO’s are present in every school in Richland County.

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