Crossing guard shortage leaves area city's intersections unstaffed

·3 min read

As students gear up to head back to school next week, the City of Woodstock will temporarily not staff three locations with crossing guards because it doesn’t have enough of them.

“Ultimately, it’s a staffing issue. It’s not just limited to the crossing guards. We’ve had staffing issues in general, across the board with other jobs as well,” said Sunayana Katikapalli, the city’s deputy clerk.

She said a high turnover for crossing guards is expected, with the city continually looking for more workers. “The problem now is that we have a lot of guards leaving the program but not enough supply to fill those positions again," she said.

Crossing guards typically work three to four shifts each day, depending on their assigned school. The job starts at $16.85 an hour and climbs to $17.37 within six months of working, Katikapalli said, noting the pay was recently bumped up from previous years.

Woodstock requires 17 full-time crossing guards and four to six on-call workers. “We’re currently short four permanent guards, and we need more reliable on-call guards,” Katikapalli said.

City officials cited the labour market, retirements of former crossing guards and growing demand for the service as factors contributing to the shortage.

“With the current demographic, many (crossing guards) are looking to step away from it entirely and enjoy their retirement in a different way, or they have health concerns, or their partners have health concerns. A lot of them are stepping back, and it happened so suddenly that we have to be able to plan for it,” Katikapalli said.

Ontario municipalities — as opposed to school boards — are responsible for hiring crossing guards.

It’s a task that has become more challenging after two years of pandemic, said Geoff Wilkinson, executive director of Ontario Traffic Council that provides traffic and safety guidance for the service.

“At least in certain municipalities, they have a challenge especially with regards to school closures because of COVID. So that really impacted a crossing guard’s role,” said Wilkinson, adding crossing guards couldn’t work when classes shifted online.

He said the bulk of crossing guards are retirees or stay-at-home parents.

Wilkinson believes municipalities looking to hire should focus on promoting the positions and finding the right people for the role. “So people interested in their community, that are looking to give back, that are helping . . . and people that love kids,” he said.

In Woodstock, staff are recruiting while they also develop resources, including maps displaying alternative routes and videos on how to cross the street safely, to share with schools in the fall. They also plan to conduct a review of all crossing guard locations to determine which locations will need to receive priority staffing, Katikapalli said.

Meantime, city officials remind motorists to exercise caution when driving through school zones.

“Look around everywhere. Don’t speed, of course. Just be mindful that this is a place where children are expected to be crossing,” Katikapalli said.

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press