Parents with children attending the Liberty County Pre-K Center have complained the center’s new afternoon parent walk-in pick-up policy is inconvenient and forces those who arrive early to wait outside. School officials say there is little to no wait for parents to pick up their children if they arrive on time.
Last week, around 20 people, some of them mothers with infants and toddlers in tow, arrived at the center at about 2 p.m., lining up in the heat to wait for the center’s doors to open. Pick-up time is scheduled from 2:15-2:30 p.m., according to school officials.
Amy Pearson, a mother of seven, stood outside on Wednesday with her two younger children, ages 2 and 3, waiting to pick up her 4-year-old. She also has children who attend Waldo-Pafford Elementary and Lewis-Frasier Middle School who she must pick up after leaving the Pre-K Center. She said she prefers the vehicle pick-up policy at her older children’s schools.
“This is just one small issue parents have with the system,” Pearson said.
She said she tried, unsuccessfully, to call the central office to be placed on a school board meeting agenda to speak about the pick-up policy. She said parents may complain about issues to one another and maybe to teachers, but not always to administrators.
She said her car battery died last week and her car wouldn’t start in the Pre-K Center parking lot. “I asked if I could wait in the office and I was told I had to wait (outside),” Pearson said.
She said by the time her husband arrived to remedy the situation, her youngest child vomited, apparently sick from the heat.
Parent Tiffany Waters, with her 3-month old in her arms, also stood outside the center on Wednesday, waiting to get her 4-year-old. She said the time the center opens fluctuates, between 2:05 and 2:15.
“I usually wait in my car though,” she admitted.
Other parents said waiting in their cars with the motor running wastes gas.
Grandparent Bruce McCartney emailed complaints about the afternoon walk-in pick-up policy to Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee and BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker on Tuesday. McCartney told administrators he preferred an afternoon vehicle pick-up policy, but a walk-in pick-up would be acceptable if parents were allowed to wait inside.
“I thought the parent vehicle pick-up worked exceptional and was surprised last year when the transition was made to parents picking up their children in the cafeteria,” he wrote. “This was extremely inconvenient for the young parents who must bring their toddlers and infants. Last year I often sat with a young mother that had a newborn and a 2-year-old and after picking up her Pre-K student went to another school to get her oldest. I saw many others sitting at other tables with similar circumstances. Not as convenient as vehicle pick-up, but at least they were in the cafeteria out of the weather waiting for their children.”
Lee responded to McCartney Tuesday evening, thanking him for bringing the matter to her attention.
“I will discuss your concerns with Principal (Shelby) Bush tomorrow,” Lee wrote. “I am sure we can reach a resolution in the best interest of the children we serve, and hopefully to the satisfaction of all parties.”
In an email dated Aug. 14 from Bush to Lee, Bush explained why the Pre-K Center no longer allows vehicle pick-ups.
“We no longer place children in cars due to safety issues discussed with GEMA,” Bush wrote. “We run the risk of putting a four-year old in the wrong vehicle or fastening the child in the restraint in the wrong manner.”
Bush referred questions to Jason Rogers, assistant superintendent for administrative services. However, Bush did stress the policy’s main objective is safety. The principal said the reason parents are no longer permitted to wait inside the cafeteria is to avoid students pulling away from teachers before the adults have been properly identified as a child’s parent or guardian.
She added that after the first day of school, the pick-up process has run smoothly.
“Pre-K students are escorted to the cafeteria by staff members in the afternoon for parent pick up,” Rogers explained. “We ask our parents to give our teachers an opportunity to get the students into the cafeteria and seated before we open the doors. There are several steps to dismissal; shuttle buses, day care vans, Pryme Tyme, parent pick-up, etc. We must make certain that we operate in an orderly fashion. Parents are asked to park and walk into the building anytime from 2:15-2:30 p.m.
If a teacher does not recognize the individual picking up the child or if there is a substitute in place, parents are asked to show identification and the teacher or substitute checks the student’s registration information to make certain the individual may pick up the child. Sometimes this may cause a longer than usual wait time for individuals. However, safety of our students is a top priority of the district.”
Rogers said if parents arrive no earlier than 2:15 p.m., they can “walk directly into the cafeteria without having to wait outside in the elements.”
Rogers said school officials recognize that many parents have demanding schedules, and suggests they consider the shuttle bus transportation the system provides for preschoolers.
“Shuttle buses run between the Pre-K Center and all of our elementary schools,” he said. “Many families take advantage of this service, especially families that may have one child at Pre-K and other children at an elementary school.”