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Parents behind wheel often create unsafe conditions

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School safety officer Sam Gallego monitors afternoon traffic Tuesday as parents pull into the front of the school to give their children a ride home.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED January 29, 2014 1:51 a.m.

Safety first isn’t a slogan for many parents who pick up their children at the end of class at Manteca’s 14 elementary schools.

Two Manteca Police school safety officers confirm dismissal time holds a great potential for tragedies.

Retired veteran MPD officers Steve Harris and Sam Gallego were brought back on duty last year to ensure safety at the Manteca Unified elementary school campuses. They split their week with each working about two and a half days meeting children and watching for any irregularities.

“We just can’t be everywhere at once,” they both agreed.

Harris answered parents’ complaints last Friday about the traffic around Brock Elliot Elementary School on Stonum Lane in south central Manteca. One parent told the officer that she feared for the children’s welfare because of the speed of cars and the fact parents were double parking to pick up their students who would run between parked cars to get their ride home.

One 9-year-old girl walked up to the officer who was parked near the main crosswalk and said, “They drive a lot slower when you are here.”

While his presence with a black and white patrol car parked at the curb may have created some parent compliance, there were still some who violated safety rules and caused concern while he was at the campus.

A check of the area on Monday to witness any difference in the safety concerns without an officer present saw a couple of parents running across the roadway with their children in tow as traffic approached. Younger students were walking to the north of the school property and jaywalking and running between cars.

Harris stressed there is a lot going on with the parents driving up and the kids anxious to get home. The drivers have so many distractions; it’s hard for those drivers to be aware of all that is going on around them.

And there were a number of the younger students who continued to run between parked cars to jump into their parents’ vehicles that were double parked, while all the time backing up traffic on the street. There is a school parking lot that many of the parents use rather than waiting on the roadway.

Monday afternoon Gallego visited Walter J. Woodward Elementary School at the corner of Sundance Avenue and Tannehill Drive to monitor traffic. He said the flow had markedly improved since construction at the school had been completed. There is a parking lot for parents as well as on the street around the school. He pointed out many open parking places along the curbing that now allow parents to walk to the front of the school and meet their children.

Both officers noted that the rural New Haven Elementary School on the fast traveled Austin Road northeast of Manteca is a major safety concern for them. Parents will back up in their cars along the roadway with unsuspecting traffic coming up behind their standing vehicles.

Gallego said that he has had many parents question him when they are asked to move out of a red zone. They reply saying that is where they always parked and asking why they can’t park in the red zone or fire zone.

Both officers have said they are really enjoying working with the elementary school children who really like them and appreciate the stick-on badges they hand out. A series of high-5s with the officers is not uncommon to see while they are on campus.

Harris spends much of his time in the mornings at Neil Hafley Elementary School on Northgate Drive  in the north central part of Manteca. He said parents pay little attention to where they park near the entrance of the school to drop of their students. However, when he parks his patrol car near the school driveway they pay better attention to the rules, he said.

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