LAKEHURST – A parent’s complaint about “chaos” when dropping off and picking up kids at the elementary school will lead to a meeting between the Police, school superintendent and the Ocean County Engineering Department.
The situation began when use of the Lakehurst Presbyterian Church parking lot next to the school on Union Avenue was no longer allowed. Parents voiced safety concerns and the prospect of receiving tickets by police over the change of what was a long-established courtesy.
“This morning (March 9) alone was chaos. Cars in the street. Cars turning all directions. Kids stepping off the sidewalk before they should have, nearly hit by cars. It is not safe,” resident Lauryn Boxx said in a social media post.
She added, “the district has been clear: we are a walking district, this statement though does not keep our children safe. When I inquired about closing roads, moving pick up/drop off etc. I was told that the roads are county roads and that their hands are tied.”
“I have made several calls to the board of education, transportation etc. and have finally found a contact (at the county) who heard our concerns,” Boxx said.
That meeting is expected to occur “shortly” according to Assistant Ocean County Engineer Mark Jehnke who told The Manchester Times his office first became aware of the situation through an e-mail from Boxx on March 8.
Jehnke said the meeting would involve School Superintendent Loren Fuhring “and any members of her staff she wishes to bring and members of the police department to see what we can do.”
Boxx said many parents “were appalled by the lack of response the school district has shown to the sudden increase in cars on the street in the mornings and afternoons.
“The closure of the church is certainly upsetting but totally warranted. What is more upsetting is the lack of an action plan our local police and school have given to this issue,” Boxx said.
Lakehurst Presbyterian Church member Jacquelyn Bernath stated, “the Presbyterian Church is deeply saddened by a multitude of major issues that have transpired. The closing of the parking lot was not in any way what we wanted to happen.”
“We sent an email to the school with information they had asked for at 2:48 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2. We also reached out several times by way of emails and phone calls multiple times to see if we could get this resolved and heard nothing back,” she added.
“The letter which was sent out was the first communication we had received in over 50 hours. We believe in full transparency,” she added.
Church Elder Matt Dever elaborated on the issue telling The Manchester Times that a meeting was held at the church hall on the evening of March 7 that included three Board of Education members, Superintendent Fuhring and a small number of parents. Its purpose was to go over the matter.
Dever explained, “there was an agreement that the school would hold a certificate of assurance and they did that for a long time. I don’t know when that started. In speaking to our insurance company and them (School District) speaking to their insurance company it turned out that neither of our insurance companies could provide the assurance to cover that anymore.”
“The church would love to open it back up. The school would love to provide the assurance but they couldn’t make it work,” Dever said. This also applies to any future use of the parking lot for parking at school functions.
Dever credited Fuhring with her efforts to make the situation work. “She did everything she could to help.” He noted during the recent meeting at the church, “the school had more answers for the parents than we did.”
“Everyone seemed to understand where we were at,” Dever added. That understanding included that the parking lot would no longer be available to residents for school functions. “Both parties wanted it open we just couldn’t legally keep it open.”
Fuhring told The Manchester Times that “representatives of the County Engineering department will be coming out. They’ll be looking at the traffic patterns and then there will be a meeting.”
She said that the arrangement between the church and school district “has been on and off again since the 1990s. Both insurance companies could not come to terms with the wording and it was suggested that we sever the relationship as it is private property and the school has no jurisdiction there.”
Fuhring noted that with the borough being only one square mile, it was a walking district with no bus transportation provided.
Police Chief Matthew Kline said only two tickets were issued since the change in parking lot access and noted a continued problem of parents dropping off their children where it isn’t allowed. He told The Manchester Times that an announcement went out in student back packs specifying “drop off and pick up areas are clearly marked around the school property. With the church lot being closed for drop off and pick up, parents and guardians must still adhere to the designated drop off and pickup locations.”
That announcement adds, “in addition, there are three crossing guards at designated locations where parents, guardians and children should be crossing. These designated drop off and pickup areas along with crossing guards are in place for a reason and help to ensure the safety of our children entering and exiting the school.”
Chief Kline urged parents to “please allow for extra time when dropping off and picking up your children. This designated drop off and pick up areas will be strictly enforced by the Lakehurst Police Department during school hours.”