VENTURA — When city and school officials decided not to post a crossing guard at the new Citrus Glen School, parents decided to take action.
They donned orange vests, took up stop signs and began guiding students across the street when the elementary school opened in September 1999.
There is only one problem with this daily ritual, which is considered a model of parental participation: Ventura police say that it is illegal.
The volunteer guards, police say, are not authorized to do the work without proper training. And they risk being ticketed for loitering in a crosswalk if they continue.
The deployment of crossing guards--either official or volunteer--has become an important issue at schools throughout Southern California as parents worry about the safety of their children. Fears were further heightened last month when a school guard was struck and killed by a teenage driver outside Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood.
Despite the tragedy, Lankershim Principal Debbie Martinez-Rambeau said, it is still critical to have crossing guards at intersections that don't have stoplights.
"Many times motorists don't see a little body going across the street," she said. "The orange and yellow jackets really help them to be seen."
School crossing guard programs vary from city to city. In Ventura, guards are trained by city police and paid by the school district. This year, Ventura schools will spend $69,000 for 18 authorized guards.
But no guard was assigned to escort children at Citrus Glen, which opened last year. That is because state guidelines say Darling Road and Jasper Avenue, the busiest intersection by the school, already has four stop signs and does not qualify for the program, according to Tom Mericle, the city's transportation engineer.
Citrus Glen's parents ran into trouble when, with the school's blessing, seven of them began providing crossing duties without the training. The parents initially wore bright orange vests and carried stop signs, but most stopped doing so after they were reprimanded by police two months ago.
Now the seven parents take turns patrolling the intersection--one still wears an orange vest, the rest wear regular clothing--and they do not carry a sign. But they still shepherd children across the street before and after school, despite police warnings.
The volunteers say that something more somber justifies their dedication. Last month, a Ventura boy was killed while running for a school bus just around the corner from Citrus Glen.
"How can you say these children are safe?" asked Janice Indiran, a volunteer guard who has two sons in the school. "I think [city officials] need to come out here and see for themselves."
City officials acknowledge that parent volunteers such as Indiran are valuable resources. The problem, said Mericle, comes down to liability. Parents will come to expect the crossing guard service and could sue the city if the volunteers aren't present and a child get hits by a car, he said.
Still, the city is considering revising its guidelines to somehow include the efforts of parents. Mericle said one option might be unpaid "crossing assistants" who stand on the side of the road and tell children when to cross--but don't walk with them. This option might satisfy parents without raising legal problems for the city, he said.