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Shedding Light On Safety In Wake Of Fatal Hit And Run, Students Given Lights To Wear Home

Post Falls Middle School students lit up their gym Thursday, holding up small red safety lights that flashed like electric glitter all over the school’s bleachers.

The lights were issued so drivers can better see kids walking to and from school in the dark. In two assemblies, the students got to try out lights donated by Post Falls Ambulance Service, the Post Falls Police Department and the parent-teacher organization.

Student safety concerns became a city-wide debate last month when student Nicholas Scherling was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The debate has centered around double-shifting at the crowded school.

School district officials have denied that double-shifting puts children at added risk.

The middle school is the only school with two shifts and the only one to use the safety lights.

“If they’re telling us it’s safe, why are they making arrangements for extra busing? Why are they making arrangements for these blinking lights?” questioned Don Morgan, a member of the Kootenai County Property Owners Association. The watchdog group has opposed past bond issues to build new schools and has requested an end to double-shifting at the middle school.

Ed Adamchak, a member of the school board, has denied that double-shifting poses a threat to students. His daughter is a student at the middle school.

“I’m a responsible parent,” he said. “If I thought it would endanger anybody I would not have voted for it.”

Middle school Principal Don Boyk defended the school district’s position. He pointed out that students often go home from school in the dark when participating in after-school activities, so double-shifting does not endanger students, he said.

Concerned parents have worried about the safety of their children, ever since double-shifting began this fall to ease crowding. The first shift of kids starts school at 7 a.m. - before the sun rises - and the second shift ends at 5:48 p.m. - after the sun sets.

“Putting a light on is not going to keep you safe,” cautioned police Sgt. Pete Marion. “The light is going to make you more visible. Don’t ever take for granted that a driver can see you.”

Mark Scherling, whose son was killed while walking home from school, attended Thursday’s assemblies.

“I wish my son was here; he’d enjoy it,” Scherling said. “It’s a smart idea and it comes at a good time this late in the fall.”

Kathy Bihler, a teacher at the school, said the hard part will be getting kids to wear the lights.

Several students said they would.

“They’re pretty cool,” said 12-year-old Sam Schaffer.

“I think it’s a good idea because it helps cars see where you are,” said Lindsay Whitaker, 12.

Khalid Baber, also 12, said he’ll definitely wear his light. “My mom’ll make me.”

That’s not too much of a surprise considering that his mother, Terry Baber, is the safety light project coordinator for Post Falls Ambulance. She and parent Debbie Mykkanen each came up with the idea of giving the middle school students lights to wear to alert cars of their presence. Once they discovered their mutual cause, they combined efforts to gather donations from the community to pay for the lights.

“I want people to realize that red light equals child,” Mykkanen said.

“My daughter is a middle school student and I pick her up twice a week when she has a swim class. I sit there and I watch kids go into the darkness.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos


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