Student pickups draw complaint
Country Club Plaza
Country Club Plaza’s parking lot, on the corner of Nelson Road and McNeese Street, is peppered with signs that prohibit the use of the lot for student pick up for neighboring S.J. Welsh Middle School. The signs were placed by property owner and manager Allen Singletary who said his motivation was to be a good “corporate citizen” by working with the Calcasieu Parish School Board and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office concerning the protection of the property.
As with many parts of Calcasieu parish, drivers are familiar with the long lines of traffic in areas during peak school zone hours and the prohibited use of the lot has become an increasing issue as area traffic woes have increased. There is “not a district-wide policy or procedure when it comes to the picking up and dropping off of students,” said CPSB spokeswoman Holly Holland. However, the district recognizes and understands that some “area businesses do not want students picked up on their property” and the school has utilized “many different methods to communicate with parents about this particular issue,” said Holland.
Like many local middle schools, S.J. Welsh’s transportation procedures include students who are designated as a “walker.” If a parent designates their child as a walker, Holland said, “after a student leaves campus, the school would have no knowledge as to whether that student walked home or was picked up at a local business.” Thus, if a child walks to a local business, “it becomes an issue between the property owner and law enforcement,” explained Holland.
However, observations Friday at the lot portray a possible disconnect between CPSB, parents and the lot’s management. At 2:25 p.m. the parking lot was relatively empty except for the patrons of the plaza’s shops, restaurants and offices. Though the signs state that those in violation can face possible citation and towing, by 2:55 p.m. many more spaces were filled with parked drivers—many, right next to the very signs prohibiting their presence.
The drivers, young and old, were presumably waiting for the middle school dismissal. When asked about the consequences of violating the signage, a self-identified “concerned” grandparent said, “Yet, here we are,” echoing the attitude of the surrounding drivers. He went on to explain that normally his grandchild has to walk across Nelson Road to his mother’s workplace but since the grandchild is in his care for the week, he felt the lot was a safer alternative for pick up rather than having his grandchild cross the busy intersection.
From approximately 3:05 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at least 150 students began to cross through the lot, many with their heads down focused on their cell phone or with ear buds in listening to music. Some continued beyond the lot to their destination but many got into the parked cars, entered the businesses or waited under the shop awnings, apparently, for someone to pick them up. By 3:30 p.m. the lot was back to normal. Shop owners had mixed emotions about the use of the lot by parents. Some owners felt it actually helped business because some parents come in and buy products while waiting for dismissal but others felt the excess traffic made their shop not easily accessible.
The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office can be seen at times patrolling the lot. Kim Myers, spokeswoman for CPSO said, there are no laws specifically pertaining to the picking up or dropping off children in parking lots. However, if you’re not a patron of a business and the property owner doesn’t want you there, then you are in violation of Louisiana Criminal Statute 14:63, trespassing. If issued a citation for trespassing, a first-time violator could be fined “no more than $500” and serve “no more than 30 days in jail,” said Myers.