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Safety officials warn of new back-to-school changes to protect children

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Fall is coming and with it, school time.

As children prepare for a new academic year, Fort Knox Safety officials are warning parents, their children, and installation personnel to stay vigilant in and around schools.

Engineers and garrison officials have made changes at the two elementary schools that are designed to protect children and improve traffic flow to and from the schools.

Van Voorhis Elementary students and parents will likely see the biggest changes this year, although both they and Kingsolver Elementary School will see beefed up security measures.

“The principals feel there’s been too many folks walking around inside the schools,” said Joe Colson, the Fort Knox Safety officer. “It’s just not safe. We have to look out for the children’s safety.”

Brenda Weatherington, the Child and Youth Services liaison for Fort Knox Schools, said many of the new security measures within the schools are designed to guard against potential active shooters and other threats.

“This year’s focus is on safe schools implementation,” said Weatherington. “That means the garrison is going to go the extra mile to keep the children and staff safe.”

Some of the safety measures include ID checks and restricted access to the elementary schools.

“We’re asking parents to be extra patient and understanding because these steps are important. They may not be able to do the things they’re used to doing,” said Weatherington. “We thank the garrison commander and his team for taking the extra measures.”

Other changes are being made for efficiency.

Colson explained that in the past, parents at Van Voorhis would line up in a single line to pick up their children, park and walk inside to get them, or park along the second round-about in the path and wait for their children to walk to them. All of this was creating traffic jams and delays, exacerbating the problem.

This year, parents who pick up their children will line up in three columns and wait for a security official to call them forward. They will be issued numbered placards to display and as they move forward, officials will radio their number with their children’s matching number. Colson said having one location for pickup and drop-off will ensure greater safety as children make their way into their classrooms, albeit annoying.

“It’s going to be really frustrating that first week for people because we’ve changed the pattern,” said Colson. “Any time you change things it takes time to adjust, so we’re asking parents to be patient.”

As for picking up children at the second round-about—

“We’ve eliminated the drop off and pick up at that area,” said Colson.

He said security officials will be on-hand there to turn people away when they attempt to stop there. “Do Not Enter” signs are also posted warning against parking in the area.

Colson said there has always been a lot for parents to pay attention to when entering and exiting Van Voorhis. There still will be as some children walk to school, while others ride their bicycles and still others arrive or leave in busses.

“We’re going to have traffic going out that same lane that kids are going to be coming in, so we’re going to have to make sure the kids ride their bicycles on the sidewalk when they’re coming into Van Voorhis,” said Colson. “We’re going to have kids walking, riding bicycles and traffic going out at the same time, so they’re going to have be extremely careful.”

Colson also warns parents who are allowing their children to ride their bicycles to ensure they are wearing proper protective gear and abiding by the rules of the road. The same warning goes for children riding to and from Kingsolver.

Colson said there were two near-miss incidents at Kingsolver last year involving children who rode their bicycles. In both incidents, the children were riding along the road to the school as cars traveled in both directions and some Soldiers were finishing physical training. The business of the road coupled with the 20 mph speed limit spelled potential disaster.

Colson said the speed limit in front of Kingsolver is another big change for the school year. While the two near-misses did not necessarily result in the change, Colson said the change was still necessary.

The speed limit through the area is now 15 mph and, according to Colson, will be enforced.

“We have crosswalks over there but there are blind spots and lots of trees, so vehicles really need to slow down,” said Colson.

Colson said a number of factors add danger to the roadways during the start of school, chief among them being increased anger because of heightened traffic and distracted driving; especially with cell phone use.

All this added stress can lead some drivers to take shortcuts in following the rules of the road. A big concern for Colson and others is drivers who decide to pass school buses as they are slowing down to a bus stop or even after they have come to a complete stop.

“We’re asking people that, when they see the bus, they stop for the bus,” said Colson. “Don’t try to rush around the bus just because the lights are not on. That happens too frequently.” n