Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Betsy Robertson: Get an A+ in back-to-school safety

By Betsy Robertson American Red Cross

After a hodgepodge of virtual, hybrid, and a scant few in-person classes over the past 18 months, most K-12 students will head back to campus and into their classrooms this fall. It’s an obvious change for kids and families, but even if you aren’t a parent, caregiver or educator, there will be an impact on roads and sidewalks throughout the Northwest Region. The American Red Cross wants to make sure all students are safe as they head back to school for the upcoming year.

Whether walking, biking, busing or driving – each have their own considerations, and we hope everyone will remember these suggestions in the days ahead.

Does your student take the bus? If so, get them to the bus stop early and be sure to stand away from the curb while waiting for your ride to arrive. Only board the bus after it has come to a complete stop and the driver or attendant has instructed them to get on. To that end, make sure to stay in clear view of the driver and never walk behind the bus. Also, know which bus is yours and never get on an alternate one.

Lots of students walk to school and that requires practice and preparation. The Red Cross recommends parents or caregivers walk young children to school for at least the first week to make sure they know how to get there safely. Practice new routes before the first day and if possible, arrange to walk with a friend or classmate each way. Find out which routes your school prefers students to take, including those where crossing guards are placed. Students should only cross the street at an intersection, obey traffic signals and stay in the crosswalk. Never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars. Similarly, students riding their bike to school need to know the rules of the road. They should always wear a helmet and ride on the right, in the same direction as the traffic is going.

If children go to school in a car, they should always wear a seat belt. Younger children should use car seats or booster seats until the lap-shoulder belt fits properly (typically for children ages 8-12 and over 4-foot-9), and ride in the back seat until they are at least 13.

If a teenager is going to drive to school, parents should mandate that they use seat belts. Drivers should not use their cellphone to text or make calls and avoid eating or drinking while driving.

Regardless of how they get to school, parents of younger kids should make sure the child knows their phone number, address, how to get in touch with their parents at work, how to get in touch with another trusted adult and how to dial 911. It’s a good reminder to teach children not to talk to strangers or accept rides from someone they don’t know.

Finally, a message for everyone else on the road: please slow down, especially in school zones.

Drivers should know what the yellow and red bus signals mean. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is getting ready to stop and motorists should slow down and be prepared to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign indicate the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off.

Drivers must stop when behind a bus, meeting the bus or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped, until the red lights have stopped flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn, and all children have reached safety.

On a personal note, I’m reminded of a phrase the Red Cross used a lot in the past 18 months, “We’re all in this together.” I’m not just sharing these safety tips; I’m taking them as well. As a parent of an elementary school student, I’ll be leading my daughter across a combination of sidewalks and trails to get to school this week. The advice itself isn’t new, it’s a reminder of how life used to be and has come again. My household is rusty (maybe yours is too?), and I expect those first days to be a bit rocky. But if we all follow the steps above, at least we’ll all get back to school and classrooms safely. Take care!

Betsy Robertson is the communications director for the American Red Cross Northwest Region.