After more than two years of discussion, there is a crossing guard in place at the crosswalk between the New Paltz Middle School and the Convenient Deli parking lot. This past Monday, Paul Etess — the man originally hired for the position by the previous Village Board, and a trained crossing guard who has worked for the Wallkill School District for the past nine years — was posted at the middle school for an hour in the morning and again after dismissal to help ensure that children can cross safely. Dressed in a fluorescent green jacket, New Paltz Police Department hat and badge and armed with a Jedilike plastic laser and stop sign, Etess marched back and forth with groups of students across South Manheim Boulevard.
Although documents uncovered by town councilwoman Kitty Brown show that it was the school district who asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) to put in this crosswalk, and the DOT who agreed to do it with the understanding that a crossing guard be put in place to ensure the safety of students, the school district has backed away from any responsibility for funding a crossing guard. It was the town and village, in cooperation with the New Paltz Police Department (NPPD) who got the job done and the person in place.
“I was ready to go at the beginning of the school year,” said Etess, who has taken a 90-hour training course in crossing schoolchildren. Despite his calls to newly elected mayor Jason West, Etess did not take the post in September. Instead, the newly elected Village Board members felt that they had no ability to hire or monitor a school crossing guard, as they did not have the capacity for the necessary background checks and fingerprinting that someone working with schoolchildren would need.
Newly elected town supervisor Susan Zimet worked with West and the Village Board to allocate the $4,000 that the previous village administration had budgeted for the position; it was given to the town, and now Etess is contracting with the town and the NPPD is overseeing the program. “Someone had to get the job done,” said Zimet, who thanked Etess for stepping forward. “Someone had to be the adult in the room and ensure that our children could safely cross the street while the Powers That Be pointed fingers at who was responsible.”
“This is one dangerous crosswalk,” said Etess on his first day. “I stopped two cars that were trying to turn left, even though it’s clearly posted that it’s illegal to turn left [out of the middle school parking lot]. It’s very dangerous, and there are no proper curb cuts; there are many, many motorists who do not obey the speed limit and I need to literally step out with a stop sign to slow them down and stop them while kids cross the street.”
Etess thanked NPPD chief Joe Snyder for contacting him three weeks ago to see if he was still interested in the position. For now, Etess is scheduled to serve as the middle school crossing guard on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for one hour in the morning and one hour after dismissal. Chief Snyder’s father, Roy Snyder, who also serves as a crossing guard in Wallkill, will take the Tuesday/Thursday shift.
“We [the NPPD] will help to outfit, train when necessary and oversee the program, and be there in case someone is unable to show up so that we can attempt to find a backup,” said Chief Snyder. “Right now we’re still working on the backups, looking to part-time bus drivers, or if we have to, an NPPD officer or a SUNY Police officer if we’re really in a pinch — just so parents and kids know that there will be someone here consistently.”
“I’ve never missed a day in nine years!” said Etess, who noted, “So many mothers were honking at me and giving me the thumbs-up. This is long-overdue here.”
“I agree,” said Zimet. ++