Today is the first day of classes for Toledo Public Schools. As parents sent their children out the door this morning, many did so with more fear and trepidation than in previous years. At least one in five Toledo children - more than at any other time in recent memory - will have no choice but to walk to school, take public transportation, or catch rides, some of which will be with young drivers.
The discovery of $824,000 "overlooked" in the TPS budget will alleviate one danger. The district is rehiring crossing guards and perhaps increasing their number in response to the school board's decision to double the walking zone to two miles to save money.
Parents are right to worry about the increased number of children who will have to walk or bicycle along busy streets where there are no sidewalks or bike paths. Students, some as young as 6, will walk through construction zones, brave depressed neighborhoods lined with bars, or bear the expense of riding public transportation.
More parents than ever before will drive their children to school, which creates its own problems. Toledo police expect the streets around schools to be more congested with vehicles and walkers, raising the potential for accidents. And many cars, especially around high schools, will be loaded with carpooling students and have inexperienced drivers behind the wheel - also a recipe for disaster.
Police expect - and parents are concerned - that truancy will rise as students who can't find rides decide to cut classes. Some may even give up and drop out of school.
Then there are the shortcuts and obstacles that can prove fatal. Last December, a Springfield High School freshman was killed and a sophomore was seriously injured when they were hit by a train as they tried to cross railroad tracks on their way to school. TPS parents worry because many walking routes and some tempting shortcuts cross busy railroad tracks.
And all of these dangers will be compounded as winter approaches and the morning trek to school for some students will begin in the dark.
These changes in transportation policy likely will continue until TPS officials find a way out of the current budget constraints. Sadly, that means there is no end in sight for the cash-strapped district.
In the meantime, parents will have to use their best judgment in deciding whether it's OK for their child to walk, ride a Toledo Area Regional Transportation Agency bus, or catch a ride with a friend. Children also should be warned against the dangers of busy streets, railroad crossings, and rides from strangers.
And people without kids of their own, as they make their morning commute to work, can keep an eye out for children. Working together, Toledoans can help make sure that TPS' money woes don't result in tragedy.
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