By Ron Leir
It was around 25 degrees as several hundred children stood shivering outside Roosevelt Elementary School, packed between barricades, as they waited for the doors on Stewart Ave. to open on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Kids typically line up to enter in the school playground, directly across the street from the school, but this day, the playground gates were locked, likely for safety reasons, due to snow and icy conditions, so the kids were confined to the tight space outside the entrance doors.
Finally, the bell rang, soon after the double doors were opened and in rushed the kids. “It caused a lot of confusion, the students and staff were overwhelmed,” parent Tricia Schwerzler told members of the Kearny Board of Education last Monday. “My daughter, who goes to kindergarten, was panicked. We’re lucky the children were composed.”
The unpalatable incident happened two days after a light snowstorm had blanketed the area, Schwerzler said. “Why wasn’t the ice removed?”
Schools Superintendent Frank Ferraro said: “I need to get more information on that.”
Meanwhile, for Schwerzler and other concerned parents, there is a more persistent issue about when their children can get into school during “inclement” weather. They feel that decision shouldn’t be an arbitrary one, left to each school principal.
So, as a protest move, they’ve been collecting signatures of other Roosevelt parents for a petition calling on the BOE to establish a uniform, district-wide policy on early school admission.
“In past years,” the petition says, “we have been witness to our children having to wait outside in the courtyard in sleet, rain, snow and frigid temperatures. … “
… We feel our children are being overlooked and deserve better treatment. As a whole, their education process is being disrupted when they are beginning their day cold and wet. We are also noticing more parents are purposely bringing their children late to avoid this inclement weather, which results in bad habits …. “
We are petitioning that our children be allowed to line up in the auditorium at 8:43 [a.m.] only during these inclement weather days.”
Along with Schwerzler, parents Lynn Michaels, with one child in grade 4 and twins in sixth-grade, and Kelly Logue, with three children attending grades 4, 3 and kindergarten, are helping carry the ball in advocating for a policy that will apply to all schools.
At Garfield Elementary School, for example, administrators put out a red flag to signal that it’s okay for kids to come inside, they said.
At Roosevelt, while there are other access points to the school, they say the principal, Steven Way, has limited access by children in K to grade 6 morning entry to the doors on the school’s Stewart Ave. side while pre-schoolers are directed to enter through another set of doors.
Way couldn’t be reached to learn his rationale for this policy.
The result, said Logue, is “you have kids, some with their parents, who come to school early, standing a good eight to 10 minutes – maybe even longer – outside on days when it’s freezing or in heavy rains.”
“If kids are soaking wet and cold, how do you expect them to learn?” Michaels wondered.
Wendy MacConchie, mother of a fifth-grader at Roosevelt and president of the school PTA, has signed the petition.
Speaking for herself, since the PTA itself has taken no official stand on the issue, MacConchie said that, “there should be a [uniform] policy in place” to protect children from being exposed to “downpours, driving rain, days when the wind chill puts the temperature in the teens.”
“We’d like to see some common sense prevail,” she said. “When you have kids sitting in wet pant legs having to study, that’s not exactly what I’d call comfortable. We’ve been told to drop off our kids late; well, that becomes learned behavior – not the best solution, either.”
When children are dismissed for the day, they’re allowed to leave through all doors, MacConchie said, even though “there’s not any less security.”
Nonetheless, Superintendent Ferraro remains unpersuaded. He told The Observer: “I have repeatedly stated at public meetings and safety meetings at each school, a uniform policy to admit students to school in the morning would not be feasible in Kearny. Every building in the district is different and all have unique space and safety issues for admitting children. Roosevelt is different than Lincoln is different than Washington. No two are alike so no one policy can work at every school.”