WEST ORANGE, NJ — In an ongoing effort to work with the West Orange Police Department (WOPD) to address mounting concerns about the safety of students and staff during the morning drop off at West Orange High School (WOHS), Principal Hayden Moore has presented various strategies to improve the traffic patterns on campus that the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) intends to implement in April.
According to a Jan. 15 report by the WOPD Traffic Bureau, security at the high school does an excellent job controlling traffic flow, but the sheer amount of school buses, teacher vehicles, parent vehicles and pedestrians entering the WOHS campus creates a serious potential for accidents.
In order to make the campus safe for pedestrians, the WOPD recommended changing the way that the entrances on Conforti Avenue and Pleasant Valley Way (PVW) are being used.
Under the new plan, unauthorized vehicles would not be allowed on campus between 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., and the Conforti entrance would be closed to all parent vehicles. A “drop-and-go” area would be created at the base of the Conforti driveway in order to incentivize drivers to use the surrounding side streets to make turns, rather than making U-turns in the parking lot or on Conforti Avenue.
In this same area, the WOPD proposed installing two traffic monitors to control the flow of traffic: one that would serve to check identification of incoming staff members, while a second would be stationed at the “drop-and-go” area. According to Moore, students would then be able to use the walkway to access the building.
“On campus, there will be additional monitors or security guards, who are generally there, as they monitor who enters the building,” said Moore.
He added that “parents tend to drop students off along the main road of PVW outside of our campus,” which he said is “very dangerous.”
“We’ve asked people not to do it,” he said. “We’ve seen the ramifications of near accidents and all that nonsense because people will not take the time to enter, drop off and continue to go.”
According to Moore’s presentation, the recommendation is for parents and staff to “use the PVW area of the campus to enter through the main driveway, which right now acts as a ‘drop and go.’”
He also suggested that a monitor be placed at the top of PVW at the main entrance in order to not only continue to move traffic, but also to stop people from making illegal left-hand turns off campus onto PVW, making a left turn to enter the main entrance or turning right off PVW into the main entrance. Anyone making an illegal turn or dropping off students along PVW will be cited by the WOPD, Moore added.
“[Entry] on that half of the driveway [will stop] so that we can continue the flow of traffic, so that we don’t hold up buses or parents,” said Moore. “This will make the flow of traffic more efficient, and we think it’s much safer than dropping off on PVW.”
Only staff members will be allowed to turn down toward the Tarnoff Cafeteria, he added, and a monitor will be present where staff members will need to show ID in order to be able to pass.
Buses will also not be permitted to enter from the main PVW driveway, but will enter instead from Conforti Avenue or from Alissa Drive near Degnan Park. Monitors will also be positioned near the Degnan parking lot to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the campus, Moore said.
Buses traveling with special education students and handicapped students will be allowed to enter the main PVW driveway.
Benefits of this proposal, which the WOBOE expects to implement on April 22, include the improvement of pedestrian safety for both staff and students.
“Strengthening our security by monitoring who enters our campus is a byproduct. It just makes sense and we’ll know who enters, when they enter,” said Moore. “Now this strengthens us, makes us a little bit harder of a target.”
Although the plan will be implemented with the WOPD’s assistance, Moore mentioned that there will still be “kinks” or mitigating circumstances to work through—including how to easily accommodate individuals with medical needs like crutches; oversized equipment such as tubas; and the occasional parent meeting, which could occur before hours.
There are currently eight staff members monitoring the parking lots, according to Moore, but he hopes to have a pool of 25 members rotating with six people in the lots at a time. He also wants to obtain more walkie-talkies, reflective vests, and “plastic horses” to restrict access to main driveways, he said.
WOBOE Vice President Sandra Mordecai and Business Administrator John Calavano both said that they would need to cost out the expenses in the upcoming budget.
Seeing as Moore’s plan also involves improving security as part of the proposal, Mordecai asked whether Moore would be willing to work with the security company that was recently hired to conduct a security audit. Moore responded that he has already been in contact with the company and hopes that representatives will be able to “help us tweak [the proposal] some more.”
Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez commented that it is smart to begin the transition in April rather than implementing it in September.
“Mr. Moore really felt strongly that if we tried to work through any kinks now…then we’re not—first day of school—trying to figure out something new,” she said.
WOBOE member Terry Trigg-Scales asked how long Moore thinks it will take the community to feel comfortable with the new system. Moore responded that the WOPD is starting a simulation as soon as possible “so that we will lessen any discomfort and eliminate any foreseen mistakes.”
WOBOE member Cheryl Merklinger commented that she hopes the West Orange community will be patient during the transition process.
Additionally, WOBOE member Mark Robertson suggested that Moore speak with the police department “about additional signage to make it very clear that there is no drop off on PVW.” He also suggested that Moore consider creating a video to communicate this information to parents and students, stating that a visual would be useful.
For the time being, the plan is being communicated through existing channels such as the West Orange Public Schools social media accounts, Channel 36/45, Naviance and news articles.
During public comment, Loren Svetvilas, founder and acting member of the local nonprofit Our Green West Orange—whose mission to “keep West Orange safe, green and affordable—came to praise the efforts of the WOPD and Moore on prioritizing student safety.
Svetvilas explained that he drops his daughter off “each morning through the ‘kiss-and-go’ lane on PVW” before going to work in the Livingston school district. For the past year and a half, Svetvilas said that he has been actively documenting the issues with the “drop and go,” sending emails, photos and video to the board as well as to the WOPD, Essex County Sheriff, township engineer, and township council.
“I know it’s going to be a big learning curve; we’re going to be working on this, but I’m so appreciative of the work that Mr. Moore did and in partnership with the WOPD, who worked tirelessly as well without a contract,” said Svetilas, adding that he has already noticed officers stationed at either end of the PVW entrance and exit to the school. “These are incredible changes, and I know we can’t put a price on the safety of our kids.”
To see a visual of Moore’s proposal as presented to the board on Monday, click HERE