Some parents and at least one school board member say double-shifting at Post Falls Middle School may have contributed to the death of a student on his way home from school.
Seventh-grader Nicholas R. Scherling died about 6:15 p.m. Monday, the victim of an apparent drunken driver, according to police. Scherling was walking his bicycle home in the dark 25 minutes after the school’s second shift had ended.
Virginia Scherling said she hopes her 13-year-old grandson’s death will be a “catalyst” for putting an end to double-shifting.
“This sends a message that the community really needs to rally together to solve the (school) housing problems so something like this could never happen again,” school board member Ed Adamchak said.
Counselors were on hand at the middle school Tuesday to help students work through their grief. Help also was available for parents and teachers Tuesday night.
Assistant Superintendent Jerry Keane described the mood at the school as quiet and said several students had talked to counselors.
At the accident scene, bouquets of flowers, a pair of crosses, a Bible and an Army dress jacket served as a roadside memorial for Scherling, who dreamed of joining the Army like his Uncle Peter, a Gulf War veteran.
“You will forever be in my heart - Dad,” read one message written on a wooden cross.
Several of the flowers and cards offering sympathy were left by strangers, Virginia Scherling said.
“It’s comforting to know that people care,” she said.
Those who knew Scherling said he was quick to help and always happy.
School cafeteria worker Irene Rohrenbach remembered how Scherling used to help her get out the milk for breakfast at Seltice Elementary School last year. News of the boy’s death shocked the kitchen staff, she said.
“It makes you want to go home and hug your kids,” said Rohrenbach, who visited the roadside memorial Tuesday.
Debbie Quaale, whose son, Michael, played on Scherling’s physical education bowling team, found comfort in the boy’s toothy grin on a picture placed at the scene.
“That’s the way he lived all the time, with that smile on his face,” Quaale said.
Scherling was one of nearly 500 students who attended the afternoon shift at the middle school to ease crowding. This fall, the school district began sending students to the school in two shifts - one in the early morning, the other in the evening. Since the first shift goes to school in pre-dawn darkness and the second shift leaves after dusk, the district allows students who normally walk or ride their bikes to ride the bus instead.
Scherling and the classmate who was accompanying him had chosen to ride their bicycles.
Post Falls voters have failed to pass three bond issues in recent years that would have financed more school buildings. If students had had enough classrooms, many parents say, the middle school would not have needed two shifts and Scherling would not have needed to attend school after dark.
Gail Worden, a member of the middle school’s parent-teacher association, had to call several parents to cancel a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night because of the tragedy.
“All the parents I talked to, they knew what happened,” she said. “They were livid. They didn’t fault the schools. They fault the 37 percent of people who voted against the school bond.”
She referred to Idaho’s law requiring two-thirds (66 percent) of voters to pass a school bond issue. When the last school levy was presented to voters in October 1996, it failed despite winning 62.5 percent of the votes.
“My son’s only a block from the bus stop where he gets off at night, but still, at 6 o’clock at night, people don’t expect to see kids on their bikes,” said Danelle Rasmussen, whose 12-year-old son Josh Rasmussen also attends the late shift.
“I think we need to look at the bottom issue, which is that drinking and driving don’t mix,” she said. “I’m not going to blame double-shifting. I’m going to blame drinking and driving.”
Post Falls has a higher rate of injury-causing alcohol-related accidents than cities of similar size in Idaho, according to an annual state report on traffic accidents.
“In this instance, nothing would have saved that kid” because of the apparent drunken driving, said Vicki Caughran, president of the parent-teacher association. “(But) he wouldn’t have been out on the road if it hadn’t been for the school’s double-shifting. I just wonder when the next one is going to happen.”
The city needs to install better lighting for its roads and around its schools, said Linda Seed, also an association member. “I don’t blame the school district for this. I blame voters, the city and the county for not providing adequate lighting on the roads.”
Caughran supports other temporary options for dealing with school overcrowding, such as purchasing additional portable buildings. But at the heart of the matter, she said, is the fact that Post Falls needs to pass a bond to build more schools.
“After this accident, maybe we need to look at it. Is it worth one more kid getting hit by a car?”
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