It’s 3:25 at , and there’s a special kind of controlled chaos occurring outside the facility.
Parked cars–some waiting patiently in line for students to jump inside on the last day of school before Spring Break–are punctured by other vehicles driving in the wrong direction, parked on the wrong side of the street, and obstructing traffic by coming to a dead stop near the residential intersection of Lampham and Prospect streets. Parents motion to their children to walk between vehicles to meet them, and kids weave around the traffic mess, backpacks in hand.
The good news is that the situation is improving. The schools have outlined a specific, one-way traffic pattern for parents to follow, and the is now using its enforcement powers to ticket parents who break the rules.
“We made some changes: The street in front of the building is now reserved for parents who are picking up their children, and the buses are now located at the side,” explained Andrea Awada, the principal of Geer Park.
“The police have been out here, but when they go, it’s back to the same old behavior,” Awada added.
Sgt. Doug Topoloski said the police department initiative to control traffic at schools is a result of complaints from residents living near schools, and the leadership at individual schools.
“The biggest concern is safety around the schools,” Topolski said. “The enforcement is meant to encourage parents to follow the rules.
“But the other factor is that elementary and middle schools are located in neighborhoods where people live, and there’s this huge amount of traffic,” he added. “It used to considered a positive for a house to be located near a school, but in Dearborn, I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.”
Fines and Lessons
The Geer Park facility is only seven years old, but other schools in Dearborn are much older, and weren’t designed to accommodate hundreds of vehicles transporting children who, in previous years, walked to school.
Though the morning and afternoon log-jam is occurring at several buildings, the police department is initially focusing on elementary and middle school buildings that have severe parking and pick-up issues, such as Geer Park.
The fines parents can incur, if they don’t follow the established procedures at school and existing traffic laws, can range from $40 to $110, according to the fine schedule for Dearborn's .
As part of the enforcement plan, the police department analyzed reports, and Topolski said that he could not locate a report of a child being struck or severely injured by a vehicle at an elementary or middle school in the past several years.
A student riding a bicycle was struck by a vehicle at Dearborn High more recently, but Topolski said the high schools are generally designed to handle big influxes of traffic.
Still, Awada said she has observed parents drop off their children in the middle of the street, even though it would require the children to maneuver between parked cars, despite the fact that the children are not allowed walk past the school’s curb alone.
“I knew we had to do something about this,” she said. “Or the day will come that we wished we had.”
Like other schools, Geer Park sent out diagrams of how the pick-up and drop-offs should work, showed children and parents the exclusive bus unloading area, communicated concern about the traffic, and even sent out a copy of the district court’s fine schedule.
Though the situation has improved, there are still rule breakers, and an occasional verbal outburst directed toward a volunteer who helps the students get to their parents after the final bell of the day, Awada said.
“Most of the parents are wonderful, but there are some that we’ve asked to comply more than once,” she said.
Too Many Riders?
Topolski, a sergeant with the Dearborn Police, said he hopes one other issue can be addressed later this year: the fact that people are loathe to let their children walk to school.
“There are parents that are driving their kids to school, even though they live a block away,” he said. “It used to be that these students would walk to school, and we want to encourage parents to let them walk.”
Topolski is working on a presentation he hopes will reach parents about the benefit of walking, and to quell fears that it might be unsafe to do so.
“We have never had a case, at least that I can find, where a child has been abducted,” he said. “It’s safe to let kids walk to school.”
Colette Richards, the president of the Dearborn Parent-Teacher-Students Association Council, said there are many reasons parents drive a child to school.
“A lot of kids are walking to school,” she said. “But there are parents that prefer to drive their children because they think it’s safer, especially if they live farther away.”
At Geer Park, about 10 percent of the school’s 330-child student body are walkers. She doesn’t think that will change any time soon, and she says that’s OK.
“I just want them to follow the rules because that’s safest for children,” he said. “That has to be our first priority.”