At their best, school drop-off and pick-up times are an exercise in patience for parents.
At their worst, they are traffic jams full of children dashing behind, between and in front of cars.
Some acknowledge that such morning and afternoon exchanges are messy and potentially dangerous. But Janesville School District officials said barring expensive improvements or a complete change in culture, school drop-off and pick-up experiences are unlikely to change.
“Hands down, it’s a huge issue districtwide,” said Brian Donohoue, a former Janesville police official who now is a security consultant.
School officials also said—tactfully—that if parents followed the rules, kids would be safer and the experience would be better for everyone.
The problemJanesville has 12 elementary schools, 11 of which were built 50 or more years ago.
Think about what the culture was like back then. Most middle-class families owned one car. Moms often worked from home, and almost all children biked, walked or took the bus to school.
Older schools were built as “neighborhood schools,” and it never occurred to district officials that many parents eventually would drive their children to school.
The challenges are different at each school.
Van Buren Elementary, 1515 Lapham St., was built close to the street on a T-intersection. One arm of the T is a dead end. There is no through street.
Madison Elementary, 331 N. Grant Ave., is not really on Grant Avenue at all, but rather at the dead end of Ravine Street.
Roosevelt Elementary, 316 S. Ringold St., neighbors St. Paul’s Lutheran School. Roosevelt is also about two blocks from Craig High School and near busy Racine Street and St. John Vianney Catholic School.
Janesville police Sgt. Aaron Ellis, who oversees the school crossing guards and the school liaison officers, worries about the amount and type of traffic in that area. Craig High School is home to hundreds of new drivers.
ChallengesVan Buren, like many other elementary schools, has a “stop, drop and go” area marked by a bright yellow curb.
The idea is that parents pull up to the curb, drop off their children and leave.
In the afternoon, students can get into their parents’ cars if the vehicles are parked next to the yellow curb. From there, parents can merge into traffic if it’s safe or wait until they reach the head of the line to leave.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, said Van Buren Principal Stephanie Pajerski.
Most of the rule violations occur at dismissal time, when everyone arrives simultaneously to pick up their children.
Common violations include:
- Stopping at the top of the “stop, drop and go” area. This usually occurs because a child has not yet exited the school building. If a child isn’t waiting by the curb, school officials ask parents to circle the block and get back into line.
“The biggest challenge is to keep people moving forward,” Pajerski said.
- Double or triple parking. Lapham Street is a two-way street with parking on both sides. Sometimes parents stop alongside cars parked next to the yellow curb—or next to a line of parked cars—and motion for their students to get into their cars.
Pajerski said that not only blocks the street, but it’s also unsafe for kids to dash between cars and into traffic.
She worries an ambulance or other emergency vehicle would have trouble weaving through the traffic.
Van Buren has invested in extra signs and continues to remind parents of the rules through take-home fliers.
During summer school, Pajerski asked students to make a safety video for parents. She hopes to get more engagement with the video than she has seen with the fliers.
Before he became a safety consultant for the school district, Donohoue worked for the Janesville Police Department for 33 years. One of his jobs was working with schools.
“It’s the parents,” Donohoue said when asked about the traffic congestion. “They ignore the signage. And there’s plenty of signage.”
Other solutions have been considered, he said.
Harrison Elementary looked into dedicating more property for student drop-offs and pick-ups, but changing the current configuration was too expensive.
At Madison, adding an entrance from Bond Place or Crosby Avenue was considered, but the expense was a drawback.
“The sad thing about it—and I used to say this when I worked at the police department—is that it’s not some Joe Shmoe doing this; it’s the parents,” Donohoue said. “They’re double parking, blocking the bus area, leaving their vehicle (to take kids into school) in the stop, drop and go area.”
He understands that parents are busy people, but he pleads with them to take their time at school.
“Just 10 more minutes,” he said. “Just 10 more. It’s all about the children’s safety.”