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Drop off our kids safely, please

Posted: December 6, 2013 12:54 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2013 5:00 a.m.

I’m the parent of a Camden Middle School (CMS) student. Each weekday morning, I drop him off after taking his brother to another school.

Each morning, unfortunately, I see some parents stopping their cars, trucks or vans in the middle of or alongside McRae or Hasty roads to drop off their kids. I’m sure this is to avoid having to wait in line on CMS’ driveway loop.

I understand. We’re all in a hurry. Waiting in a long line can make me crazy, too, sometimes.

The problem is these parents are not only in jeopardy of being issued a traffic ticket, they’re putting their own children at risk for physical harm. At the very least, they are causing a bit of consternation for those of us trying to enter and exit the school or others just trying to pass through.

Most CMS parents use the loop. Many of those that stop on the side of the road do so right at signs that warn them not to. This is one of the most dangerous places to drop off your kid in the morning, in my opinion, especially if you’re coming down McRae Road from U.S. 1.

Children being dropped off there have to cross the street to get on to CMS’ campus. There’s a crosswalk, but kids are still having to compete with drivers entering or exiting the school grounds.

I’ve spoken with both Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd and CMS Principal Byron Johnson about this. Floyd tells me that while no child has been hurt since the new CMS opened a number of years ago, the issue of parents dropping off their kids street side has always been a concern.

“It has been a problem,” Floyd said, and not just at CMS. “People have it in their head that this is their routine and they’re not going to change it. It all can be solved if parents leave home just a few minutes earlier.”

I remember when my son attended Camden Elementary School (CES), I saw some of the same behavior. Parents dropped their children off alongside Lyttleton or Laurens streets instead of parking in a nearby lot or using CES’ driveway.

Johnson told me of a past problem at CMS I hadn’t been aware of: parents trying to make illegal U-turns in the car lane. So, some changes were made and not just because of U-turns.

“We have repainted lines, added signs to the side of the road and added yellow divider poles to the lanes as you enter the car rider circle to prevent illegal U-turns,” Johnson wrote to me in an email. “These are a few of the added safety features made to date in an attempt to be proactive. I hope to add some additional bumper poles right past the teacher parking lot entrance to ensure that the double-lane expectation is adhered to as posted.”

Let me skip to afternoon pick-ups for a moment. The few times I’ve picked up my son from CMS in the afternoon, I’ve arrived well before dismissal time to wait in the car pick up line. Lots of parents line up in the cue, taking advantage of the double-lane system to which Johnson referred. He even stands out in the middle of the driveway near the library and helps parents merge into the single lane that forms at that point.

I asked Johnson whether or not parents dropping off their children at CMS can use the double-lane system in the morning. Even though he doesn’t stand out there to help, his answer was “yes.”

Oddly enough, though, most parents don’t take advantage of the inner lane in the morning, something neither I nor Johnson understand.

“It was my hope that the expectation of the alternate lane merge would catch on and become an understood practice (in the morning) but, unfortunately, that has not been the case thus far,” Johnson told me.

At the end of the first nine weeks of school this year, Johnson included a message about drop-off and pick-up safety with a newsletter sent to parents. He repeated much of the same information in an automated phone message to parents the night of Dec. 3.

In the phone message, Johnson reminded parents that school doors open at 7:20 a.m. and that they should not drop off their students “in the teacher parking lot, the left lane of the car rider line or in the middle of the street on McRae or Hasty roads. Signs are posted and the police will begin issuing traffic tickets to anyone caught doing so.”

Johnson added that -- just as in the afternoon -- the school operates the double-lane system from just past the teacher parking entrance to the library. At that point, he said, parents should begin merging.

“We also ask that you, please, pull to the end of the car rider awning to drop your students off,” Johnson said in the phone message.

As I mentioned, there’s a chance you could get a traffic ticket for stopping in the middle of or alongside the road. Floyd had me talk with CPD Lt. Lee Boan, who’s in charge of the department’s patrol division. Boan confirmed that both the city and county -- only those portions of Hasty and McRae roads (indeed only those sides of the road) that actually touch the school grounds are inside the city limits -- have given out tickets in the past.

“If we call them, the county does come out,” Boan told me, adding that Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office deputies recently handed out either warnings or tickets to eight people.

Boan also said that while he’s only seen a few “bump-ins” and close calls, it’s a matter when -- not if -- a child’s going to be hurt. He expressed special worry about kids walking along the side of the road and/or being dropped off or picked up not only along on Hasty and McRae roads, but other streets nearby.

And he squarely places responsibility on us, the parents, as he should.

“Parents are impatient,” Boan said. “They’ve decided their kid’s safety isn’t as important as not having to wait in line.”

He said everyone involved -- from the school to law enforcement -- is trying to solve the problem, but that parents have to “step up.”

I agree. So, please, whether it’s at CMS or somewhere else, do the right thing, plan your day a little different and have the patience to drop your child off at the appropriate spot. I would hate to have to write a story about how your kid got hurt -- or worse -- here in the pages of the C-I.

Just so we’re ending on a positive note, it was great to be among what I believe were hundreds of family members at the sixth grade band concert and production of Babes in Toyland Thursday night. What a fun time!

Everyone did a great job, but Johnson ended up with all the best lines. Gonzorgo!

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