Riverhead Charter School

Petition seeks Charter School crossing guard

Riverhead Charter School Superintendent Ray Ankrum has been in charge of the running the K-8 school on Route 25 in Calverton since 2012.

But this year, he’s got another role: traffic control officer.

Mr. Ankrum spends about 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon directing traffic outside the school, wearing a bright orange vest and hat over his suit. 

“I’ve been doing this since the start of the school year,” he said. 

Last year, the school’s crossing guard was injured, and he currently remains out of work on disability, Mr. Ankrum said. The Riverhead Police Department provided the school with a crossing guard last year, but this year they said they are understaffed and couldn’t do so anymore, Mr. Ankrum said. 

Now, he’s taking to the Internet for help.

Mr. Ankrum has posted a change.org petition to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other officials seeking help. 

In two days, more than 500 people had signed the petition. 

“Currently, our school is on a major highway, State Rt. 25,” the petition reads. “The speed limit is 50 mph, and there is little to no signage that would indicate that vehicles are entering into a school zone.”

In addition to the governor, the petition also is targeting U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Lee Zeldin and the New York State Senate.

Mr. Akkrum said he targeted those officials because they are up for reelection. 

Town officials say they are looking into the matter.

“I reached out to the police chief to see what can be done,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who took office in January.

“We’ve been going back and forth on what is the best way to do this,” she said. “We have not come to a final decision yet to how we can get someone over there to direct traffic.”

The town also met with state Department of Transportation Thursday to discuss the possibility of lowering the speed limit in front of the school and they are in the process of analyzing it, she said. 

Mr. Ankrum said charter schools “are always last on the totem pole.”

Every school is supposed to be assigned a crossing guard, he said.

The tuition-free charter school’s funding comes from a formula based on the “cost-per-student” of each student’s home district. The majority of the enrollment comes from the Riverhead, Longwood and William Floyd districts.

“We can’t just raise taxes,” he said. The school could try to create a crossing guard position for itself, but that person would still need to be trained by the police, he said.

Mr. Ankrum, however, said he has not been trained. 

“But I know how to do it, it’s just dangerous,” he said. Other staff members have volunteered to do it, but Mr. Ankrum said he’d rather put himself in jeopardy. 

Efforts to get the speed limit lowered in front of the charter school have also failed to date, Mr. Ankrum said.

“It was supposed to go from 50 mph to 30 mph, but instead, it seems like it’s gone to 75 mph,” he said. 

Sometimes teachers will try to cross the street to get to the deli. 

“They are trying to cross 50 mph traffic, basically playing Frogger,” he said.

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Photo caption: Riverhead Charter School Superintendent Ray Ankrum directs traffic. (Tim Gannon photo)