Tennessee father Jim Howe recently walked into South Cumberland Elementary School to pick up his children only to end up in handcuffs. Police say that Howe was arrested for disorderly conduct after arguing with Sheriff Deputy and School Resource Officer Avery Aytes. Howe says he was simply performing what is a daily ritual for many parents, picking up his kids at the end of the school day.
Doing this at South Cumberland Elementary means that, according to a new school policy, parents cannot just walk up to the door and bring their child home. After 2 pm, parents now must wait until 2:35pm to get their child and must do so only after queueing up in a line of cars.
“Previously, parents were coming out to pick up children, they were just getting out of cars and coming to school. In this day in [sic] age, the PTO [parent teacher organization] was concerned that it was a safety issue, someone could come up and grab [any] kid.”
Of course the safety of students is everyone’s main concern. According to Howe, though, the policy had created some impractical realities. Waiting in one long line to pick up a child was time-consuming and caused “traffic [to be] backed up over a mile on a busy highway” (not to mention a lot of pollution near the school due to all those idling cars).
Howe described the traffic congestion created by requiring parents to line up in their cars in a video made by Howe’s fiancée as he and Deputy Aytes argued. Noting that the line of cars posed a safety hazard of its own, Howe had decided to pick up his children while on foot and express his concerns about the new policy.
In the video, Howe calls the sheriff’s deputy to air his complaints. Aytes is shown becoming agitated and saying,
“I’m going to take you up to the jail. I’m telling you right now I’m not putting up with this today, you go ahead and record all your want … you’re being childish and it’s uncalled for.”
Howe then responds, “I’m not raising my voice, I’m not confrontational, I want my kids.” He notes that he has signed a special form that gives his kids permission to walk home with him and appears to stay composed during the video which ends with his arrest.
Andrews of the school district counters that it was Aytes who “showed quite a bit of restraint.” Howe could be said to have made the proverbial mountain out of a molehill in not just going along with a policy that, school officials say, was created for students’ safety.
The very existence of the policy is a sad statement about the what’s happening in U.S. schools. South Cumberland Elementary School’s location near a highway means that it is readily accessible if you’re in a car or or other motor vehicle. But being so close to a major thoroughfare has created additional problems including that neither students nor parents (nor school staff, for that matter), can get to the school by foot (or, indeed, via bike). If the design of the school’s front entrance is like that of many of the schools my son has attended, there is often only one way to drive in and one out, so long lines of cars when parents drop off and pick up children are inevitable.
In this day and age — with the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school tragedy imminent — it’s not surprising that concerns about student safety are paramount; they must be. It’s all the more crucial that school officials, parents and everyone in a school community be mindful that well-intentioned policies take into account common sense realities, but shouldn’t a parent be able to walk to and into their child’s public school to take them home?
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