Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Stairs

You guys are all so "my people." Not knowing the details of anything that even vaguely smacks of gossip bugs the hell out of me, too. But, really. You're going to be sorry you asked. Because it's boring, and a little stupid. That said...there's a bunch of info I have to give up front, and then I'll get into my rant.

Like at every school in the nation, practically, there are real safety concerns regarding drop-off in the morning. (Pick-up in the afternoon is staggered, with half the school getting out at 2:12 and the other half at 2:36, so while it's still an issue, it's almost literally half the problem that mornings are.) There is a drop-off lane on the south side of the school, where a paid employee will open car doors and help kids out of the car if needed, etc. That dropoff is right in front of a narrow staircase with 35 steps, which leads up to the main playground. (We live in the foothills, and this school is set into a very steep hill, hence the need for the steps if you enter on the south side of the school.)

There are also three entrances on the west side of the school. The one furthest south, nearest the drive-through lane, is a ramp up into the playground through a very wide gate; you have to walk up a bit of a hill already to get there, so no need for stairs. The one above that southwest ramp goes past the office; that one is forbidden to students. The one that's furthest north on the west side of the school leads to the kindergarten classrooms and is for the kindergarten students only; that plays no part in this discussion. (It's WAY up the hill, though, and when you're a kindy parent, you almost literally count down the days until you don't have to try to leg it up that hill. It's a killer...)

So. The world being what it is, a good number of parents who drop off at school in the morning refuse to use the drive-through lane because it might inconvenience them to have to wait for THREE FUCKING SECONDS to drop their kids, and instead pull around and park in front of the southwest gate/ramp and let their kids out, creating a HUGE traffic mess and often blocking one or both of the crosswalks at that southwest corner. One of the parents at the school, who lives nearby and has watched little kids nearly get run over on a daily basis by these overprivileged, self-absorbed bastards, decided to take the problem on. She talked to the principal and several other involved parties, and they came up with this plan in which they are now putting out cones that make it virtually impossible for you to pass the drop-off lane and then make a right to drop your kid by the southwest ramp. They also put cones up all along the curb near the ramp, preventing people who do get by from pulling their cars over to let their kids out. Our little world is much safer for that. I deem all of the above to be A Good Thing. (Big of me, huh?)

But then they went one step further, and this is where they unleashed The Wrath of TC: They decided to make SURE nobody would even WANT to pull over by the southwest ramp, and so they locked the gate there. All children, they said, now have to enter the school via the south entrance...the entrance that involves going up 35 narrow concrete steps.

To me, this is nothing more than an accident waiting to happen. Four hundred and something kids, holding backpacks and lunchboxes and dioramas and jackets and umbrellas and...all trying to shove up those stairs at the same time and most not having a free hand to hold onto the rail so they don't trip or fall. Add to that the overprotective parents who want to see their kids onto the playground safely (which you can't do from the bottom of those stairs) who will walk up with their kids and then try to get back down while other kids are going up. Add to THAT the kids like Em, whose backpack was so heavy that our doctor actually ORDERED me to get her a rolling backpack...but who can't get that backpack up the stairs without someone helping her.

It doesn't take much of an imagination to see what will happen the first time Em or someone else loses control of their backpack. I'm betting she could take out ten or twenty kids with one slip of the handle. Not to mention what will happen the first time some kid innocently stops short or bends over to tie a shoe or pick up the pencil box he just dropped, and knocks over the kid behind him (especially a short kid like N) with the pack on his back. I can't say why, but every time I think about it, it makes my stomach turn over. I just know that somebody is going to break something on those stairs. I just know it.

In fact, I've hated those stairs for so long that even when it wasn't required for all kids to go up it at once I still worried about their safety, and have always insisted that we walk around to the southwest ramp rather than go up the south stairs, which are closer to our house. And then here was the school telling me, "Nope, sorry. You're going to send your kids up those steps every morning, because we're CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR SAFETY." Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

Now, there were things I hadn't really thought about and have only learned now that I've started this little brouhaha: For instance, we are apparently the only school that has more than one entrance, and the problem is (and has been) that the southwest ramp, which leads directly onto school grounds, has never had any staff standing in front of it. So anyone could walk on, take a kid, walk off. This, supposedly, is why they glommed onto the idea of closing off this extra, problem entrance. It wasn't until I started making a stink that it occurred to them that maybe the entrance they should close is the SOUTH one, the one with all the stairs. Duh.

(To be fair, it isn't that simple. Because it's so close to the corner, putting the drop-off lane by the southwest ramp is going to back traffic into the intersection and across the crosswalks that were the original impetus for these changes. This is going to take a little ingenuity, but I think it can be fixed.)

So that was what the whole oh-woe-is-me-I-need-a-beer thing was about. I got a call from my friend last night about the meeting they'd had to address my concerns; she wanted me to know that they were definitely going to do SOMEthing about it, but that this week starts standardized testing, and they don't want to start messing with the morning traffic patterns when testing starts the minute the late bell rings, and would it be OK with me if they waited two weeks? If it really worried me that much, it would be OK for MY kids to enter the school via the office entrance until the new pattern can be decided upon and tried out.

I can only imagine the amount of eye-rolling and snide commenting that went on in association with my name in that meeting.

I should have just said, "That's fine. Thanks." And, I did. Except I also felt compelled to add, "Well, it's fine so long as no one gets hurt on those stairs in the next two weeks. But, I guess if they do, I'll just get to say 'I told you so,' huh?" God, I'm sanctimonious. Someone hit me, please.

That, then, is the story of TC Takes On The Stairs. Aren't you sorry you asked?

Mock away, Jane.


Green said...

I have many ideas. The first is to widen the staircase. The second is to widen the staircase and get a conveyer belt for kids to put their shit down on and let it get hauled up while the kids walk up the stairs.

The third, and less costly is arranging kids to go up the stairs with a buddy - and one of the two has to have two hands free - one to hold onto the railing and one to hold onto the buddy so the one with no free hands doesn't trip and fall, causing a domino reaction.

The fourth is to stagger the arrival time. I could keep going...

kristenspina said...

Wow. I'm with you, though. That staircase is a disaster waiting to happen.

Ambre said...

WTF is up with people who can't freaking wait 2 minutes to drop off/pick up their kid? At my school, the real winners are the ones who PARK THEIR CAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET. Dumbshits.

Meg said...

LOL! I can see why you didn't want to explain. Elementary schools and drop-off issues are universal. Our school has a horseshoe for drop off and many entrances (all of which are locked after drop-off). Many parents just won't get with the program and think that they don't have to follow the basic rules (drop and go on dropoff) for pickup, (if your child is not at the benches, drive around again or park and walk up!).

I agree with you completely. The answer is simply to open the gates. Get a teacher or even a parent volunteer to monitor the gate if necessary (doesn't sound like would be needed). It is MUCH more likely that someone will be injured on the stairs than that a child will be taken at dropoff from the school especially since the gate is near the dropoff lane. Don't any kids (except yours) walk to school? People have a tendency to worry about the unlikely (child being taken from the school) than the more likely (children falling down 35 steps).

The only thing I don't quite get is how much traffic on the stairs has increased with the gate closing if most kids were already being dropped off properly and had to use the stairs. Maybe that is why the others did not think this was a big deal.

Thanks for taking the time to explain.

TC said...

FYI...I sometimes forget that most of the country has schools that are in BUILDINGS instead of big sprawling campuses that don't have enclosed hallways. Which is my way of saying that these stairs? They're outside. And when it rains, they turn into a waterfall. And when it's windy, those kids are hit by the wind at the top of those stairs but HARD.

Actually, I have no idea why there hasn't been a nasty accident already, now that I think about it.