By Heather Mullinix
The controversial change in the parent pick-up procedure at a Cumberland County school was the result of requests by parents of the school and developed through a collaborative process between school officials and law enforcement.
But it was not without hiccups, Director of Schools Donald Andrews said, and the process has been tweaked to reduce and, ultimately eliminate, traffic backing up onto the state highway and increase safety for the students, staff and parents.
"It's a very big issue for the superintendent's office because of the safety and well being of the children," Andrews said.
Sheriff Butch Burgess said he had been working with the school for the past week to eliminate the traffic snarl.
"I think we've about got it fixed," he said. "Our goal is to get everybody off the road. It's not a good situation to have the cars sitting on the shoulder."
South Cumberland Elementary has implemented a number of safety procedures this school year, including preventing parents from entering the building to pick up students. This year they have been asked to wait outside the building.
A memo prepared by Andrews says parents began crowding around the doors and taking children as they exited the building. Some parents refused to stand in line and would break line to get their children first.
"It was just chaotic, to say the least," Andrews said.
The Parent Teacher Organization addressed the situation at its Sept. 10 meeting and Principal Darrell Threet worked with Assistant Principal Becky Brown, School Security Chief Tim Claflin and Cumberland County Sheriff's Deputy Avery Aytes to develop a procedure that is in use in all other county schools.
"Parents were to stay in their car to pick up their children," Andrews said of the procedure.
He praised Threet for responding to the parental concerns.
"You have a principal here showing leadership and saying we've got to do a better job of getting children on and off this campus in a safe way. I commend Mr. Threet for that," Andrews said.
A first notice of the new procedure was sent home Oct. 1 with every child in the school. A second notice went out Nov. 4 along with the new name cards made that were to be placed in vehicles. That notice included the start date for the new procedure. Nov. 6, a note about early checkout procedure changes was sent home, notifying parents there would be no student check out after 2 p.m., a policy in use in many of the county schools.
"There was an opportunity for everybody to know about the new procedure," Threet said.
Andrews said the new policy for checking out students after 2 p.m. still allowed for dismissing in unique circumstances, such as a medical appointment or helping a parent make the schedule work for employment situations.
"Let the principal and the staff know if there is a unique circumstance and they will work with you," Andrews said.
South Cumberland Elementary has unique challenges regarding traffic. The school is one of the largest elementary schools in Cumberland County, but the campus has only one entrance and one exit. Traffic was overflowing onto the state highway that fronts the campus, Lantana Rd., and it was taking longer than anticipated to get students from the school to the vehicle, further slowing the process.
Burgess said the number of cars sitting on the road Thursday afternoon was ten, but it was reported they quickly moved onto the campus when school was dismissed. Traffic has been routed through the overflow parking lot by the football field, with two lines of traffic. Burgess said there was a problem at the back of the parking lot with having enough space for two lanes to make the turn, but he believed that was being addressed.
"It's working better," he said.
Thursday, there were 189 vehicles that went through the pick-up line that afternoon.
Andrews reported there had been positive feedback from parents on the new policy, but not all are pleased with the new procedures.
Parent D.L. Smith addressed the Cumberland County Board of Education Thursday night. "If the problem is safety this is missing the mark. It is safest for a student to walk with the parent by hand to a parked car. Now, they're running between two rows of idling vehicles.
"I've seen parents do boneheaded stuff. That's why I walk up to the school. Now I don't have that option."
He also noted it was wasteful of resources to have cars idling. He recommended stopping the policy for the time being and getting a group together to work on the problem.
He also noted one reason for the high number of students being picked up by private vehicles was many parents did not feel comfortable sending their children by bus, with behavioral issues and foul language children may be exposed to by the wide variety of ages together on the bus. He suggested volunteer monitors might be helpful to improve that situation.
"A lot of parents have given up on the buses," he said.
Andrews noted that, while the traffic situation has improved, he continues to monitor the situation.