Parents at two neighboring elementary schools in North Raleigh are concerned that putting both schools on the same bell schedule this fall will cause a traffic jam, safety issues and challenges for working parents.
On Tuesday, Wake County school administrators recommended changing the bell schedules at five schools, including North Forest Pines Elementary in Raleigh, which shares a campus with Forest Pines Drive Elementary.
North Forest Pines operates on a year-round schedule, with classes running from 7:45 a.m. until 2:15 p.m., while Forest Pines Drive runs on a traditional calendar schedule, with classes running from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. The county’s proposal would change North Forest Pines’ schedule to coincide with that of its neighbor, a 90-minute shift.
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The change would free up six buses to serve the new North Wake College and Career Academy in Wake Forest. North Forest Pines students would share buses with Forest Pines Drive.
Parents said they’re concerned about more traffic during the carpool pickup and safety issues because of additional students on the buses. They’re also concerned about having to alter their family schedules around the new time.
“If they wanted to do it, they should have done it in December so that people had time to think about their other options,” said Melissa Riley, whose son attends North Forest Pines. “People are stuck with their school choices now. It’s really unfair.”
Several application periods to transfer schools closed in February. One more opportunity to request a transfer is available in May, but those transfers are hard to get approved.
North Forest Pines opened in 2007, and Riley’s daughter began attending the school in 2008. Two years ago, the Wake County school system tabled a recommendation to change the start time at North Forest Pines amid complaints from parents – including Riley, who said she is glad her involvement with the school will end after her son graduates this year.
“Safety is one of my main concerns. It’s a huge shift, and it’s very dangerous up there,” Riley said. “This is also such short notice for working parents.”
“It’s already a super tight area with carpool blockages,” said Jamie Schnegelberger, who has two children at North Forest Pines. “Also, there will be more kids on crammed buses, and in the past there have been behavioral issues. There will be more kids for the bus driver to keep control of. How is that going to be safe for my child?”
Schnegelberger said she had planned her family’s schedule around specific times her children needed to be dropped off and picked up from school. A later start time at North Forest Pines would uproot that, she said.
“They’re asking me to rearrange my entire life,” she said. “I don’t think they understand how this impacts families.”
Ann Walter, president of the Forest Pines PTA, has three children who attend the school and said the proposed changes would make carpool lines and traffic worse.
“I see this making our carpool take much longer, and we already get out late so sports and activities after school could be a problem. And teachers would be stuck in classrooms much longer,” Walter said in an email.
“Buses with kids from both schools would take longer to load and routes would be longer. Kids already are on our buses until 5 o’clock and sit three to a seat on most routes,” she said. “There needs to be more thought put into this plan before they can make these changes.”
Wake County is facing a shortage of bus drivers, administrators said. They recommended the schedule changes to deal with four new schools opening in August and route changes to accommodate Apex High School students relocating to a new campus.
Bob Snidemiller, senior director for transportation, told Wake school administrators Tuesday that a study commissioned by the City of Raleigh concluded that the traffic conditions at both North Raleigh schools did not drastically differ from the conditions at other schools.
“Every school has traffic overwhelm the road structure at a start and release time,” Snidemiller said. “They do say that traffic will overwhelm those roads, just like they do around most of our campuses at that time, but ... they don’t see it as being significantly different than what we experience everywhere else.”
School board member Roxie Cash, who represents North Forest Pines and Forest Pines, said she sympathizes with concerned parents and that Wake is working to recruit more bus drivers. Since Monday, Cash has received more than 700 emails about the schedule change from parents.
“I’d like us to hold off making this change until next year,” she said. “The factors these parents are worried about are important to me. It’s totally related to the need for bus drivers.”
The school board is scheduled to adopt the new schedules on March 21 but may delay the vote to April. The school system has created an online forum for public comments and feedback on the proposal. The forum can be accessed at http://bit.ly/2mYAkYD.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler