Officials at Riverside School District 96 and the Riverside Police Department will implement a change in the pickup/drop-off policy at Central School in May, one that aims to ease congestion in front of the school and avoid accidents like the one that occurred on April 13.
Beginning May 2 or May 9, there will be a new drop-off/pickup area designated in the rear parking lot of Central School for fourth- and fifth-grade students, police and school officials have confirmed. The date was not nailed down as of Monday, said D96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson. However, all parents will be notified of the change prior to the start of the new policy.
Lamberson and Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said the new arrangement was a pilot program to gain information on whether the school should implement the change on a permanent basis next school year.
“What I understand is that during the trial period, we really want to take a look at what the experience is,” said Lamberson. “The goal is to gather some information to see if this type of solution helps traffic in the front.”
Weitzel said that for the first three days of the rear drop-off/pickup trial, police will be on the scene to observe. If the new arrangement creates a congestion problem on Akenside Road, Weitzel said, police will seek another solution.
“If it’s too congested on Akenside, we’ll make a request to stop it immediately,” Weitzel said.
Congestion has long been a problem in front of Central School and Hauser Junior High, which stand next to one another on Woodside Road. Making things even more congested is Building Blocks preschool at St. Paul’s Church, which is immediately east of Central School.
Among the three schools, roughly 1,000 students come and go from the buildings each day, many of them brought in vehicles by parents. And though the schools have arranged to stagger their start and recess times, traffic is often heavy.
In the past year, there have been two students who have had collisions with vehicles on Woodside Road. Last June, on the last day of school, a 12-year-old girl ran her bike into the side of a minivan as she attempted to cross Woodside Road near Hauser Junior High. The girl suffered a broken leg, requiring more than one surgery.
Throughout the 2010-11 school year, Riverside police have conducted targeted traffic enforcement to crack down on cellphone use and text messaging in school zones. The most recent effort at Central/Hauser came on Dec. 1 when police issued eight tickets.
“Our department has had numerous complaints of distracted drivers picking up children in the school zones on Woodside Road,” Weitzel said at the time.
On April 13 at 3:30 p.m., an 11-year-old North Riverside boy was riding east on the sidewalk near Central School on Woodside Road when he was knocked off his bicycle by a woman who was attempting to turn the wrong way into the semicircular driveway in front of St. Paul’s Church.
The boy was not seriously hurt and the woman got out of her vehicle to see if the boy was OK, but she left the scene without reporting the accident, prompting Riverside police to publish a description of the vehicle and the driver.
On Friday, April 15, a Riverside police officer stationed on Woodside Road at dismissal time was able to locate the woman after matching her vehicle with the description given by witnesses. The 30-year-old North Riverside resident was ticketed for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and failure to report an accident to police.
The woman was also taking advantage of another time-honored, though highly frowned upon, tradition of pulling into St. Paul’s driveway while picking up a child from Central/Hauser.
Complaints of D96 parents using the driveway as a pickup zone or temporary parking lot while their kids play in the Central School playground forced church officials a couple of years ago to erect signs against the practice.
While the signs have helped, they haven’t completely stopped the practice.
“People would park here for everything,” said a church office manager who declined to give her name. “If people had kids in the preschool three years ago, they’d still think they could use it.”
The woman said some parents would park on the driveway for extended periods of time.
“But since the signs came up, it’s not been so much of a problem,” she said.
Preschool Director Ann Jablonski said preschool parents strictly follow the rules for use of the driveway in picking up and dropping off kids.
“We’re very careful,” Jablonski said. “We walk each child to the car and each car comes into the driveway. The church has tried to make people aware it’s a private driveway. We discourage it because cars zipping through there will hit kids.”
Lamberson said the district may have to again remind parents about the use of the driveway.
“Prior to the [April 13] incident, my understanding was that it had been resolved,” Lamberson said. “I think we’re going to have to continue to look at that issue.”
Jablonski said she’s all for the school district’s decision to try out a drop-off/pickup area behind the school. She said many years ago the district used to have a rear pickup area and it did reduce congestion.
“I would applaud that,” Jablonski said. “It makes sense and might lessen congestion.”