La Grande Middle School students believe steps need to be taken to make the portion of Fourth Street running past the front of their school safer, according to a survey of LMS students completed in late May.

The survey indicated that students feel their school warrants precautions taken at some other schools in Union County.

“Students want to have flashing warning lights like they do at Island City (Elementary School),” said eighth-grader Kacie Caldwell.

Caldwell helped conduct the survey along with the other students in Melinda Becker-Bisenius’ first period advisory class.

The survey indicated that students feel relatively safe crossing Fourth Street but also revealed that a quarter of LMS students have had at least one close call involving a motor vehicle in the vicinity of their school.

Leah Harris, also a student in Becker-Bisenius’ class, said this may be due to drivers who are in a hurry to get places.

“People get impatient,” Harris said.

Harris and her classmates created a six-question survey that was distributed to all LMS
students. Sixth-graders completed them in their home room class, and seventh- and eighth-graders did so in their advisory class.

The survey showed that respondents believe there aren’t enough signs warning drivers of the need to slow down in a school zone, that people tend to drive too fast down Fourth Street and that there is a good law enforcement presence before and after school on the streets surrounding LMS.

The need for flashing school zone warning lights on Fourth Street is an issue La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza said the school district and the City of La Grande have been working together to address in recent months.

Joseph Waite, the La Grande School District’s bond and facilities manager, said the school district and the city are looking to hire a coordinator for the process of writing applications for Safe Routes to Schools grants. Safe Routes to School funding is often used to pay for the installation of flashing warning lights in school zones as well as crosswalks and sidewalks that make it easier for students to walk or bike to school

The Safe Routes to Schools coordinator would work for the city and be hired on a three-year grant, Waite said. The Safe Routes to School program has multiple funding sources including the federal government.

LMS Principal Kyle McKinney said flashing warning lights would be a welcome addition in front of the school because many people drive too fast down Fourth Street and often are not paying attention.

“They are looking at their phones and in a hurry with work on their minds,” McKinney said.

The principal noted that about 10 years ago his son Marcus, then a LMS student, sustained a minor hip abrasion when a vehicle hit him on Fourth Street.

“He was in the crosswalk,” McKinney said.

The LMS principal, who often serves as a crossing guard, has almost been hit several times himself. McKinney said he once was walking to the middle of Fourth Street to alert drivers that students were about to cross when he saw a car about 200 feet away coming toward him at about 30 miles per hour.

“I kept waiting for it to stop or slow down,” he said.

It never did.

The vehicle whizzed past McKinney, who had stepped back about three feet.

“I wish I had gotten its license number,” he said.

The principal said the traffic problem in front of LMS has increased since he became principal 16 years ago because LMS’s enrollment has grown from 350 students to 550, which means more parents are dropping off and picking up their sons and daughters. The congestion problem was reduced about three years ago when the school district created a north side cut-out on K Avenue where parents can park.

“That has been a huge plus,” said McKinney, who said previously cars were sometimes double parked on Fourth Street.

The principal said he was impressed by the concerns expressed by students in the Fourth Street safety survey.

“Before, I didn’t know if they realized (the need for extreme caution),” McKinney said.