WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange High School Principal Hayden Moore presented a plan to change the traffic patterns around the school, making morning drop-off safer for students, staff and parents at the Feb. 25 West Orange Board of Education meeting. Moore and the high school administration worked with the West Orange Police Department to conduct a traffic study and develop the plan, which restricts access to the WOHS parking lot in the morning before the school day begins.
“They did compliment our staff on the job they have been doing so far,” Moore said at the meeting in reference to the WOPD report. “There are two security guards that are on the platform of Conforti that try to help control some of the pedestrian traffic but they are overmatched.”
Moore said the Conforti Avenue entrance to the WOHS parking lot will be closed to all parent vehicles in order to combat the traffic,. A “drop and go” area will be created for students who do not take the bus to school at the base of the Conforti Avenue driveway. Another drop and go area will be created at the Pleasant Valley Way entrance to the parking lot, which would restrict vehicles from entering the parking lot from all entrances.
“Right now vehicles converge usually right by the Conforti or the cafeteria area because you can U-turn and you can cut through,” Moore said. “There are different reasons why people converge in those areas but the traffic causes a real hazard and risk for pedestrians, which are students and staff walking into the building.”
The Conforti Avenue entrance will be manned by a parking lot attendant checking for staff identification and allowing staff to enter the parking lot.
“Parents would go to the drop and go area, where students will be let out, and we would have another monitor keeping traffic moving and students would walk up the walkway as they always do,” Moore said. “On the campus will be other monitors, which are security guards who are generally there as they monitor who enters the building.”
On the Pleasant Valley Way side of WOHS, left-hand turns onto the street will continue to be prohibited and enforced by the WOPD. Parents dropping off students will not be allowed to stop on Pleasant Valley Way either.
“Pleasant Valley Way, as we know, if already congested,” Moore said. “An issue that we experience is that parents tend to drop students off along the main road outside of our campus. That’s very dangerous and we’ve asked people not to do it because we’ve seen the ramifications of near accidents because people will not take the time to enter, drop off and continue on.”
In the new plan, Moore said that parents who use Pleasant Valley Way will enter through the main driveway, which is designed as a drop and go area but not used as one. A monitor will be placed at the front of the driveway and at the end of the driveway, directing traffic.
“They will stop people from doing two things: making the left out and making the right in,” Moore said. “We will stop that half of the driveway to continue the flow of traffic so we don’t hold up school buses, we don’t hold up parents, we still make it efficient, yet we think it’s a lot safer than dropping off on Pleasant Valley Way.”
Buses will enter the school property along Degnan Park, and there will be a monitor in the parking lot on that side of the school as well. Moore said the plan requires an increase of six staff members, in addition to the current eight, who will work on a rotating monitoring schedule. The school will also need one plastic horse to block traffic, reflective vests for the monitors and four walkie-talkies.
BOE member Terry Trigg-Scales asked about how long it would take for the plan to be implemented, and Moore responded that the school staff and WOPD would be simulating the plan several times before parents are involved. The estimated date to fully introduce the plan is Monday, April 22.
“We didn’t want to implement anything in September,” acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez said at the meeting. “The recommendation came and Mr. Moore really felt strongly that we try to work through any kinks now, while we’re already in a pattern and we’re not at the first day of school trying to figure out something new.”
BOE member Mark Robertson said that because the school campus will be closed to outside vehicles between 7 and 7:30 a.m., there could be a problem with students or staff who have to be at WOHS for early meetings. Moore said students and staff would be able to show identification to one of the monitors in order to be let into the school early if necessary.
“I think this plan will actually help with the Kelly School as well, because making that left-hand turn into Pleasant Valley Way does back up traffic in the morning,” BOE member Cheryl Merklinger said, referring to the elementary school located across the street from WOHS. “I think that will be helpful on both sides of the street.”
Merklinger also asked parents and the school community to be patient while the new plan is implemented.
“I ask the community to be patient as we implement this,” she said. “With any new change there’s obviously some kinks and things that we need to work out, so I would ask for everyone’s patience as we do that.”