Residents concerned after multiple car accidents outside Okemos Schools

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Crosswalk outside of Chippewa Middle School.

Rachel Lewis

Crosswalk outside of Chippewa Middle School.

After two car accidents involving children occurred outside of Okemos schools at the start of the school year, parents reached out to the school board to voice their concerns. 

The first accident on Sept. 15, outside of Chippewa Middle School on Kinewa Drive, left one student in a wheelchair with a broken ankle and concussion. The second accident on Oct. 4 involved a child walking at the intersection of Kinawa Drive and Okemos Road. This prompted Superintendent John Hood to send out an email to parents reminding them about street safety. 

“It’s really disappointing because myself and some others in the room have spent a lot of hours and effort into putting together recommendations that would make it safer for our students to walk and bike to school, and it’s just going nowhere,” said Tim Potter while addressing the school board during its Oct. 9 meeting. 

Parent Promotes Safe Routes to School

Potter has been involved with Meridian Township for many years. He, along with his three children, all graduated from Okemos schools. Currently, he manages the MSU Bike Shop. 

About 10 years ago, Potter started getting involved in local groups focused on getting students to school safely. After learning about the federal Safe Routes to School grant that was applied for and accepted by East Lansing Public Schools, he began to work on ways to get this grant for Okemos by partnering with teachers, MSU faculty and concerned parents within the community. 

However, when the committee finalized its recommendations and applied for the grant, the county said they would not support it. 

“Our last meeting was in May or April, and nothing has moved forward since then,” Potter said. 

At the school board meeting, Hood said that he was unaware that the Safe Routes to Schools program has been stalled and that he will “need to investigate it a little more.” 

Potter said that one of the over 30 recommendations that were part of the application for the Safe Routes to School grant could have prevented the accident that happened on Sept. 15. 

“One of the recommendations was to build some kind of obstruction, to construct a safety island in the middle of that road to prevent that exact sort of crash,” Potter said. 

The accident occurred because the vehicle involved was passing through the center turn lane while the student was crossing at the crosswalk. 

‘Anyone around there at the time was feeling a little shaken’ 

These car accidents have caused concern for many parents of students at Chippewa and Kinewa Middle Schools. 

Aubrey Hoermann’s son was leaving school at the time of the accident on Sept. 15. 

“When there was commotion he ran over with other kids. He was there when other kids were picking (the student that got hit) off the ground,” Hoermann said.  “Anyone around there at the time was feeling a little shaken.” 

Hoermann said he wishes there were more safety precautions at this particular crosswalk, and pointed out that at a similar crosswalk down the road in front of Kinawa has a professional crossing guard who ensures safety during times of heavy traffic. 

“It always made me feel better that there were one or two adults in reflective vests with stop signs who are really paying attention to the job at hand, to make sure that the cross walk is safe,” he said. 

How Will The Schools Move Forward?

Potter said that one of his main concerns following the two accidents is that it will make more parents want to drive their kids to school instead of letting them bike or walk. 

“I’m concerned it will lead to more parents driving their kids to school because they’re scared,” he said. “But it just creates a more dangerous environment for kids who do continue to walk or bike to school. More and more cars waiting in line means more impatient parents who get caught behind these lines of parents waiting.”

Superintendent Hood said he wants to protect his students. 

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our kids coming to and from school,” Hood said. 

East Lansing, Dewitt and Holt schools have all been able to receive the grant through working with the same group of community members and MSU professors. It is unclear why the county has decided not to move forward with applying for the Safe Routes to School grant. People like Potter believe that it boils down to financial reasons, such as the cost of design blueprints and upkeep, which the grant would not necessarily cover. 

“It’s a small amount of money when you consider the life of children,” he said.

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