How do you fix traffic problems at Prince Edward Elementary?

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2022

FARMVILLE – In September, Heather Black shared a story with the Prince Edward County School Board. The mom of five, who previously taught at Prince Edward Elementary, had problems picking her younger children up from the school.

“Cars are parked in no parking zones,” she said. “They’re double parked. They’re on all of the yellow curbs, in the elementary school lot and spilling over into the school board lot as well. Traffic is not directed, other than entering and exiting the elementary school lot.”

She also warned that people are often reversing their vehicles or attempting to park while children are walking in every direction.

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“I had a family walk behind my van the other day when I was trying to reverse into a parking spot,” Black said.

Flash forward two months and the board heard a very similar story, this time from school board member Dr. Timothy Corbett Sr.

“I went there and picked up my son early,” Corbett said. “Someone parked behind me and cussed me out when I asked them to let me out.”

Every week, The Herald receives at least one email or message on Facebook about Prince Edward Elementary’s traffic problems. Parents are upset about being blocked in by other people, about long lines with what they see as no organization and a problem as drivers literally park anywhere while waiting for their student. Nobody’s arguing that there’s an issue. The problem is that nobody knows how to fix it.

What’s being done at Prince Edward Elementary?

What’s being done to fix the traffic problems at Prince Edward Elementary? That was the big question at the Wednesday, Nov. 9 school board meeting. Board member Doug Farley raised Black’s concerns, asking if any changes had been made.

“No sir, there haven’t been any changes,” Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said. “Yes, it was investigated. She received a letter.”

The problem, Johnson said, involves multiple things. First, the school dismisses about 50 students every two to three minutes. Second, there’s limited space because of the layout of the area, so it limits what can be done. Third, parents arrive 10, 20 and sometimes 30 minutes early. And those who arrive later block in those earlier arrivals.

“We can’t move where we do pickup,” she said. “We can’t straddle times.”

Johnson said she decided against releasing classes at different times. Part of that is due to bus schedules. Also, she felt it was unfair.

“Who’s going to explain to a child why they have to stay 20 minutes later and let all the buses go?” she said.

But at the same time, Johnson admitted it was a problem. She went to the parking lot and witnessed issues firsthand.

“I watched one parent put her baby in the car seat, put the child she was picking up in the car and then she couldn’t get out, because someone literally had blocked her in,” Johnson said. “We also had a confrontation in the parking lot because of people blocking each other in. I also saw little children just running to their cars without someone holding their hand.”

Under the current setup, could emergency vehicles gain access to the school, board members asked.

“No,” Johnson said. “No, they could not.”

Can’t wait for a remodel

Board member Beulah Womack blamed the issues on a lack of space.

“Our space is so limited over there, with the buses and the teachers being parked,” Womack said. “At the middle school, you have a big parking lot. At the high school, it’s a different situation, but over here, space is limited.”

Maybe when the school is remodeled, she added, they look at adding space.

But board members made it clear they didn’t want to wait.

Board member Doug Farley said he suggested putting a committee together, with recommendations on how to make it safer.

“I know at other schools, they’ve addressed those problems and they’ve made changes,” Farley said. “This is our most important responsibility, safety of our children. This is something we must do.”

Farley’s fellow board member Kelly Forsythe pointed out that the district has a group already, a school safety audit committee. However, they’re waiting for instructions. She pointed to the committee’s last meeting, where they asked for direction from the school board before moving forward.

Johnson said she planned to reach out to an outside group and then come back to the board.

“We can’t figure out another option, so I’m going to ask the PTO,” Johnson said. “The elementary school has a very strong PTO and (Principal Teresa) Vance works very closely with them. Maybe they can help us come up with something because it is a safety concern.”