School educates students on recent abduction attempts

Additional measures have been taken to ensure the safety of children walking to and from Urbana schools. Barbara Sartain, principal of Wiley Elementary School, said there has been a general increase in awareness due to the recent abduction attempts throughout Champaign-Urbana.

Wiley Elementary has responded to the attempted abductions by sending parents a letter advising them to discuss with their children how to respond if approached by a stranger, Sartain said.

Other safety measures are already in place at Wiley Elementary, such as the school’s Risk Watch assembly, she said. Risk Watch is held regularly so students can learn about bicycle and pedestrian safety, she said.

The school also issues surveys to parents so they can alert the school to concerns like broken sidewalks or driveways with potential blind spots, she said.

Sartain said she sees the surveys as a way to learn about specific safety problems and also as a reminder to think about the children’s safety.

The ability of the attempted abductees to properly respond to the situation is a testament to the education provided by the schools, said Cynthia Hoyle, co-chair of the Champaign-Urbana Safe Routes to School Project and MTD transportation planning consultant.

Parents of schoolchildren and other community members have organized “walking school buses” for years, said Gabriel Lewis, transportation planner for the Champaign County Regional Commission. This is a family-led movement that allows groups of children to walk to school with parents, he said.

All Urbana schools also have Safe Walking Routes for their surrounding neighborhoods, Hoyle said.

Safe Walking Routes are updated biannually and were most recently updated in August 2011, Lewis said.

These can be found online at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission’s “website”:

Potential walking routes are scored on several elements, including sidewalk quality, posted speed limits, traffic volume, crosswalks and the presence of a crossing guard, Lewis said.

He added that these factors are considered in conjunction with public input to select the safest routes. The greatest of the recent changes to the Safe Walking Routes was the translation of three maps to Spanish, Lewis said.

“We’re trying to get information to more families,” he said.

A total of 15 schools throughout Champaign-Urbana participated in the International Walk to School Day on Oct. 5, Lewis said.

Despite concerns rising from the attempted abductions, schools did not discourage walking or biking, he said.