Traffic concerns are mounting at schools throughout the Turlock Unified School District. According to school site and district officials, much of the problem revolves around parents failing to follow established traffic rules.
While essentially all schools experience congested traffic during drop off and dismissal times, some schools seem to be experiencing serious problems that could affect student safety. Parents have publicly complained about the situations at Julien Elementary, Walnut Elementary, Turlock Junior High School and Medeiros Elementary.
“I am so worried every morning and afternoon for the kids,” Julien parent Amber Brown McElroy posted on Facebook. “I have my son meet me at the Starbucks parking lot. People are so dumb, double parking and not pulling all the way in the drop-off zone. Seriously, your child can walk an extra 20 feet to class instead of them getting out double parked and getting hit.”
TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Mike Trainor says the district is continuously monitoring the traffic situation. He said the district, school site administration, the City of Turlock and Turlock Police Department are in constant communication about traffic safety issues at schools.
Julien Elementary recently completed a $450,000 parking facility makeover, which opened at the start of this school year. Parents now drop off and pick up children in a specified area, rather than on Canal Drive.
However, problems persist.
“We are actually much safer with the new parking lot,” Julien Principal Linda Murphy-Lopes wrote in an email to TurlockCityNews.com. “It has relieved a lot of the problems, but unfortunately many parents do not follow the safe driving protocols that they all learned about when they received their license.”
Trainor says parents are notified of the proper procedures, usually in both verbal and written forms.
At Julien, parents were sent letters detailing the new traffic plan. Maps and signs indicate where parking is available. And safety handbooks and plans were shared with parents and students.
But many parents are simply ignoring all of the guidelines.
“We can see that the offenders are the adults that are (double parking, blocking the drop-off zones, ignoring signs and directions from staff…),” Murphy-Lopes said. “If adults picking students up would park correctly (not in the red zones), and not leave cars unattended, and not block driveways, drive-through's and such…AND be patient…it would help all schools!”
Parents at other Turlock school echoed Murphy-Lopes’ concerns with parents’ driving.
Brandi Makin, a parent of Walnut Elementary Education Center students, said double-parking often leads to confrontations at the school.
“There are some sort of arguments and/or fights I see every day amongst drivers,” posted Makin on Facebook. “People park in the middle of the roads and turn off their cars. People park in the middle of the parking lot (behind parked cars) and leave their vehicles to walk and pick up their kids. It is madness!”
And parents at Medeiros Elementary School also ignore parking laws, Medeiros parent Lon MacDowell said.
“Medeiros has ‘No Parking’ signs, people still park there,” MacDowell posted. “People pull up and park right in front of the office, park, and drop their kids. People drop their kids on the other side of the lot and kids dart through cars. The staff tell the parents not to do this, parents still do. It's the same over at the junior high, I see so many parents pull up to the light and drop their kids in the crosswalk. It's insane.”
Turlock police are present many mornings to help enforce the traffic laws, pulling over many parents.
But police cannot be at every school every day, noted Rachelle Little-Heppner, a parent of students at Dutcher and Walnut. Parents must start to police themselves.
“(The police) are doing their jobs, the parents just don't care,” Little-Heppner said. “It's all about what's most convenient for them. Walnut repeatedly sends out notes describing the safest and most effective way to drop off and pick up your kids. Yet people still fly through the parking lot, double park and ignore safety in general. I think it would help to have the administration out walking around. It's not just the job of the police department. Parents need to be responsible, too.”
Compounding the issue is the fact that fewer students now walk to and from school, leading to more traffic congestion as students are dropped off and picked up. While there are no actual TUSD statistics on the percentage of students who walk, it is generally assumed that the trend has increased traffic problems and decreased student safety around schools.
“This trend has increased over the years and continues to be a concern for us,” said Trainor. “Again, we will continue to monitor this closely in order to ensure student safety.”