City Council addresses children’s health and safety

By Kristin Helf
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Mary Pat Clarke

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke

The Baltimore City Council meeting Monday was largely focused on issues of children’s health and safety, reflected in two resolutions—one against the cutback of crossing guard hours and one in support of improved children’s dental health in Baltimore—that were introduced and both, subsequently, adopted.

The first resolution proposed an investigative hearing regarding a proposed cutback of paid hours for city crossing guards.

“The idea of reducing crossing guard hours and compensation from four hours a day to two hours a day, which would be a most impractical and impossible situation for anyone to remain employed, is apparently in negotiations,” said councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke of the 14th district of North Central Baltimore.

Clarke emphasized the importance of city school children’s safety, which 290 paid crossing guards currently protect for four hours each weekday, in addition to the salary that the crossing guards depend on, which would be cut in half if the proposal were to move forward.

Clarke echoed this sentiment later in the meeting when she spoke about Mayor Catherine Pugh’s recent veto of a $15 minimum wage in Baltimore, a bill which Clarke had championed.

Clarke said she will keep fighting “until there is economic justice and parity in this city, until people who work for a living can go home at night to a decent place and know that next year there’ll be a little more, and that there’s a pathway to hope for their families and self-respect [from] being able to provide.”

She said that she looks forward to next year’s state elections, when the issue will likely resurface.

“We’ve got to keep going on until we solve the injustices that we see, and we have some power to change,” Clarke said.

Zeke Cohen

Councilman Zeke Cohen

Councilman Zeke Cohen of the first district in southern Baltimore followed Clarke’s crossing guard resolution with a resolution to improve the dental health of children in underserved communities.

Children of low-income Baltimore families often go without the dental care they need. In 2007, 12-year-old Deamonte Driver died after an untreated infected tooth led to a severe brain infection. The procedure to remove the tooth would have cost $80.

“Among children, dental services are the most needed service that they don’t receive,” Judith Lave, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Pittsburgh, told ABC News after Driver’s death. “I think it is probably the least covered of our health benefits across the nation.” 

Cohen was joined at the meeting by the Maryland Dental Action Coalition, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the oral health of adults and children statewide.

“We know we have many health disparities in our great city and dental health is certainly among them,” Cohen said.

A former middle school teacher in Baltimore, Cohen mentioned that, following budget cuts at his school, “one of the first things to go was dentist checkups and dental health.”

According to Cohen, Baltimore’s Latino communities are especially underserved when it comes to dental care.

The resolution, which aims to support efforts to improve oral health literacy throughout Baltimore, was unanimously adopted.

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