Drive around metro Atlanta in the morning or late afternoon and you will likely encounter traffic troubles around schools, as big yellow buses, parents in minivans, and kids with backpacks all try to move in and out of school driveways.
Sven Hagen, co-president of the PTA for Ashford Park Elementary School in Brookhaven, said the problems at his school mostly come from parents double parking and blocking the flow of traffic.
“It’s partly a function of the design of the school, which is from a different era when a lot of the kids walked to school,” Hagen said. “It doesn’t allow for a lot of traffic at the front of the school. The problem comes when we have parents pulling in and pulling out.”
Hagen said at the start of the school year, he and other parents volunteered to pay for an off-duty police officer to help direct traffic around the school. “It was the first two weeks of school and it was just bedlam,” Hagen said.
Local police departments usually do not direct traffic at schools as part of their regular assignments. But many schools hire off-duty officers to help move cars more smoothly at the start of school and at dismissal.
Dunwoody Police Officer Tim Fecht said traffic can be particularly bad at schools located on major thoroughfares. He said Dunwoody police have a regular presence near Chestnut Charter Elementary School, Peachtree Charter Middle School and Dunwoody Elementary School, which are located on busy North Peachtree and Womack roads.
“Those are both very high traffic areas … due to the [Georgia Perimeter] College and the closeness to the Interstate as well,” Fecht said.
Hagen said Brookhaven police do not have the resources to send an officer to the school every day, and he doesn’t want to drain the PTA’s resources paying an off-duty officer. He hopes the traffic problem will solve itself, if more people follow the rules.
“It is our parents that are choosing not to follow the program for whatever reason,” Hagen said.
Brookhaven Police Lt. Brandon Gurley said while the police department doesn’t station officers at schools, it does provide regular patrols around the 12 schools within Brookhaven’s borders.
“We’ve developed really strong working relationships with the schools in Brookhaven,” Gurley said. “We have requests from time to time both from parents and school officials for increased patrols around their property, whether it’s traffic or safety issues.”
In Sandy Springs, police spokesman Capt. Steve Rose said off-duty police officers have been hired to direct traffic at schools located on busy streets, such as The Weber School at the intersection of Roswell and Abernathy roads, and North Springs Charter High School near Dalrymple Road.
“Traffic coming out of schools is no different than traffic in the rest of Sandy Springs, which can be a nightmare at times, but it’s not consistent,” Rose said.
He said Sandy Springs police are available to the school resource officers from Fulton County schools. “We’re always working with school resource officers if they need something,” Rose said.
The DeKalb County School System has its own police force that serves the schools. School resource officers are typically posted at middle and high schools. The county also provides crossing guards to help students safely cross the road.
Fecht said there typically are not school resource officers in elementary schools. In March, the Dunwoody Police Department created a program for elementary schools called SAFE: Safety and Friendship in Education.
“We started that early this year in light of events that happened in Newtown, Conn.,” Fecht said.
Fecht said under the program, officers who are patrolling near elementary schools will take a few minutes out of their shift to go into the school and interact with students and staff.
“Our goal is to increase patrols, and if anyone were thinking about any kind of criminal actions, it would be a deterrent,” Fecht said.
Fecht said the other goal of the program is to give students a positive introduction to police officers.
“We want them to see us as a friendly face and know officers by name … so they’re not intimidated and don’t have that negative connotation,” Fecht said. “It’s a friendly face that they can trust.”