Tensions between parents and police officers continue over drop-off zones
BY ELA JALIL
Drop-off zones have been a source of contention between police and parents of University Park Elementary School students for years, although the situation appears to be improving, according to University Park Police Chief Harvey Baker.
The zones are located on Queens Chapel Road and Underwood Street, and don’t allow parking or idling, according to the school website. Despite this, parent and University Park council member William Sweet says he has often witnessed parents blatantly disregarding police instructions not to leave their car and walk their child into the school.
“It really is just so striking to me… that somebody wasn’t going to be cordial and kind and respectful,” Sweet said. “Not only just to people in general but to the police officers.”
The policies currently in place are due to Baker’s “Safe Route to School Plan,” an initiative created four years ago with a former council member that focuses on ensuring the safety of all children arriving at school. The plan includes crossing guards, clearly painted lines to indicate drop-off zones and an additional drop-off zone on Underwood Street. It also involves continued police presence in the area.
“The officers are out there for two reasons, traffic enforcement to keep the roads clear and to prevent people from blocking residential driveways…also if there is some type of threat they can discern it quickly and take decisive action,” Baker said.
However, some parents argue that police officers are aggressive and quick to ticket. Kara Mundy spoke at a Sept. 5 town council meeting about leaving her car for the sole purpose of unbuckling her daughter from her car seat and receiving a warning from a police officer that immediately led to a ticket.
Although she said she was able to pay off the ticket, she noted that many other families may not have the money to do so.. According to data compiled by U.S. News and World Report, 49% of UPES students are economically disadvantaged.
“We need to be cognizant of the bussing situation in Prince George’s County, we need to be cognizant that not everyone can walk on sidewalks and our police officers need to do more than scream at parents that they have three seconds to get back into their car before receiving a $50 ticket,” Mundy said in the meeting.
Only 83% of school bus driver positions filled in Prince George’s County Public Schools, according to Meghan Gebreselassie. Three of University Park’s routes are disrupted due to this shortage.
ButSweet and Baker said they do not believe that this shortage is what is causing the problems at the drop-off zones, as it has always been a problem area. Sweet believes the main source of these problems come from a lack of consideration from other parents.
“It just breaks down to just basic civility and just understanding that you’re not the only person that is dropping their child,” Sweet said.
Despite tension with some parents, Baker emphasized his mission for his officers and him to remain professional and friendly. He believes that the issue is beginning to resolve itself as parents continue to learn drop-off procedures.
“The officers are giving them some grace, we gave a lot of tickets out the first weeks,” Baker said. “We have a lot of new parents- over 100 new students began at University Park Elementary School- these parents just don’t know, and we’re trying to explain to them.”