September 15, 2019

Changes made to pick-up procedure at Surline Elementary

Changes come after student mistakenly walked home instead of taking the bus


WEST BRANCH — Parents dropping their children off to Surline Elementary School Monday morning were greeted with a new drop-off procedure that left many frustrated and caused the school district to revert to the old system and seek input toward changes.

Prior to Monday, parents dropping students off to SES had to either wait outside or in the cafeteria until the 8:41 a.m. bell rang, after which they could walk their students to class. However, Monday morning that was changed and parents could no longer enter the hallways at the school.

“In the morning, there’s a lot of adults in the building dropping children off,” Superintendent Phil Mikulski told the Herald Monday night. “There’s a potential for someone to be in the building that maybe we would not want in the building.”

A robocall from SES Principal Jill Smith that went out to parents after the school day began said the change was for the safety of students.

“This is an effort to make sure all students go to their classrooms and teachers are aware of where all students are at all times,” Smith said in the recording. “It is for the safety of the children.”

However, many of the parents were caught off guard by the change, and the district received many complaints, Mikulski said. As a result, the drop-off policy has been put on hold, and the district is seeking input from parents this Thursday afternoon.

Mikulski said the change was made Monday morning after a meeting with staff at the school. He said the change had been in the works previously, but an incident Friday caused the district to implement it sooner than originally planned.

“We had an issue after school on Friday with a student where the student ended up walking home instead of riding the bus, so I think it was a reaction to that,” Mikulski said. “What can we do to protect the kids and keep this from happening in the future? Well, let’s put this in place.”

Mikulski said the student was only unaccounted for for a short period of time. But the fact that there was an issue put the plan into motion faster.

“We’ve known that having this many people in the building in the morning has had some potential concerns for a long time,” Mikulski said. “We know that in the afternoon we have to do a good job of monitoring where the kids are going and communicating. So it was ready to go. I think it was in reaction to what happened most recently, so they were ready to go with it. The staff was all on board and they were ready. But the parents just weren’t. That’s OK. That’s understandable. That’s a big change.”

He said the district also has to take into consideration what that time means for the parents and their kids.

“Sometimes we lose sight, this is a time for parents to be with the kids because maybe they do work during the day, they don’t get to see them after school,” Mikulski said. “When they get home it’s homework and soccer practice. It’s all these different activities. It’s a special time for parents too. We can’t lose sight of that.”

“We can’t say we want more parent involvement and then when parents do want to be in the building and be with their kids to talk to their teachers, say, ‘But not like that,’” he said. “We have to make sure we look at both sides of it, and I think that’s what’s intended to be for that meeting on Thursday.”

The meeting, which runs from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at the elementary school, will consist of an opportunity for parents to talk with Smith and other staff to offer suggestions and give their input on possible changes, Mikulski said. It is not a formal meeting, and parents can come and go when they are available during that time.

While the changes implemented Monday morning for drop-off procedures have been put on hold, changes to the way parents pick students up from the school will remain changed as they were Monday.

According to the robocall that went out Monday morning, parents will be directed to one of the two gyms at SES. Parents of second-, third- and fourth-grade students will need to go to the blue gym, and parents of preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students will need to go to the green gym. The teachers will then bring the students down to their parents. For parents with kids in each gym, there will be a door so they can move between the gyms and pick up both kids.

Mikulski said he observed the new pickup procedure Monday and it went really well.

He said parents need to remember that the district wants to make sure the children are safe.

“I just hope everyone realizes, student safety is the biggest thing,” he said. “That’s the intent. That’s the goal. That’s one of the things we try the hardest to do. We can’t do anything unless the kids feel safe. Our parents expect us to keep them safe.”


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