Julianne Bonwit stood outside Garfield Elementary School, her curly brown hair blowing behind her as she handed parents a petition to read and, hopefully, sign.
When Bonwit caught a signature, her lips curved into a wide smile. Dressed in a purple down jacket and wearing black gloves, she has braved the cold almost daily to collect signatures calling for a new stop sign at the intersection Jackson Boulevard and Hannah Avenue. In 10 days, Bonwit said she’s compiled nearly 100 names on her petition, with concerned parents and community members alike scribbling signatures.
Bonwit has heard the excuses from Garfield, located at 543 Hannah Ave. Administrators say the school has no say in instituting new traffic controls. Bonwit has heard the excuses from village officials, saying she didn’t contact the right department to submit her request. She still feels hopeful her petition will inspire change but wonders why a simple stop sign request caused such a bureaucratic mess.
“It just seems like there’s a lot of pointing fingers, but nobody’s doing anything about it,” she said. “I do feel like I’m getting the runaround,” Bonwit added. “It just seems like there’s something about this intersection causing a lot of strife. All I want is my 3-year-old and her friends to get safely across the street.”
Initially, Bonwit said the request for the sign wasn’t even her own. In early September, she said, Garfield parents reached out to her as the preschool representative on the district’s Citizens Advisory Council parent interest group, asking her to bring up the matter at the next council meeting.
Bonwit did. She said council members told her the request for a stop sign at Jackson and Hannah had a long history at Garfield. Parents had brought it to the village. The school had complained to the village. In response, the village put up warning signs, made Hannah a one-way street and widened the curbs so buses could more easily travel down Jackson Boulevard, said Tim Gillian, village administrator. Gillian said he’s even assigned a uniformed police officer most mornings to Garfield, who can help with traffic control measures.
“The placement of stop signs in the village is not controlled by the school district and is solely a village decision,” said D91 Supt. Louis Cavallo in an email to the Forest Park Review. “I trust that the village makes those decisions based on all available information. I have no comment beyond this.”
Bonwit said she told Garfield parents about the measures already in place by the village. But the group wanted more: Parents called for a new stop sign, or at least a blinking light or better signage to make the intersection safer for Garfield’s growing number of preschoolers.
Jason Fustar, 37, said he lives near Garfield, and his 2-year-old daughter Fiona will soon be enrolled there.
“As of right now, I’m a guy on the outside looking in because I have not dealt with the administration myself,” Fustar said. “Everything I’m seeing or hearing is through the grapevine. Obviously, people are feeling brushed off. That doesn’t make me feel very excited” to enroll Fiona at Garfield. Fustar added his name to Bonwit’s petition.
Bonwit decided to take her request to the school board. At the Nov. 9 meeting, a board member suggested Bonwit bring her case to the village’s Traffic & Safety Commission, which had an upcoming meeting scheduled for Nov. 16, she said. The board member also recommended Bonwit start a petition.
The new advice inspired Bonwit. That night, she Googled a template for a simple petition. She wanted to be ready to collect signatures the next day. On Nov. 10, she arrived at Garfield, dropped off her 3-year-old daughter Evangeline and started taking names.
Bonwit also posted on Facebook about the petition on Nov. 13, writing, “I started a petition to get a stop sign installed on Jackson at Hannah in front of Garfield Elementary School. A number of preschool parents brought it up as a major concern. Hope to be at that corner with [the] petition the next three days. Please stop by and say hi and add your name to the petition.”
She noted that she would be taking her petition to the village’s Traffic & Safety Commission and “the more signatures and the more parents to show up at the meeting, the better!” Sally Cody, Forest Park’s executive secretary, replied to the post saying the village’s Traffic & Safety Commission meeting had been cancelled that month.
Mayor Anthony Calderone then commented on the Facebook post, telling Bonwit she was going through the wrong commission and needed to write a letter to the Forest Park Village Council first.
“I have no desire to derail your initiative because I think it warrants further review, but we do have processes in place,” Calderone wrote.
But Calderone’s explanation of how Forest Park government works differs from what’s written on the village website, which says the Traffic & Safety Commission first reviews requests and then sends them to the Village Council. Calderone said no change has recently been made in the village’s decision-making process. Gillian said he hadn’t seen the language on the village website, and that it might just be a mistake. He said he expects Bonwit’s request will be up for review on the upcoming Village Council agenda on Nov. 27.
But “why not call somebody who can fix it for her?” Gillian said. “I’m not sure that you or any of the other 60 or 70 people she’s spoken to have any ability to get her on the Traffic & Safety Commission. If she called village hall, that’s my frustration, I can fix that.”
Bonwit said she had no idea she could directly submit requests to the village council. She said she feels like the village is upset she posted about the issue on Facebook, but that it’s hard to know the right process when even the village website doesn’t offer correct information.
Still, “I am confident something will be done. I’m hopeful that will happen,” Bonwit said. The parents are engaged and want something to happen, and I would imagine that the mayor would also want the best interest of the youngest kids in our community — to feel safe going to school.”