Port Washington parents criticized the decision to close the Cliff Way gate entrance for South Salem Elementary School students during a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night.
Principal Pia Ferrante made the initial announcement on Aug. 3. She said the decision was taken in consultation with Port Washington Police and Salem’s Building Safety Committee.
“While I know this is an inconvenience for those living on that side of Salem, I realized afterward that while I was increasing safety in one regard, I was decreasing the safety of our children in another,” she wrote in a statement. “By allowing children to walk across campus with buses and cars in the front of the school, it creates an extremely unsafe situation which I am not comfortable allowing.”
Ferrante was not at the meeting on Tuesday.
Parents urged the board to reconsider the decision. Many argued that it was a safer, even if sometimes longer, route for their children to enter the school’s campus.
Superintendent Michael Hynes said the choice was taken knowing that there might be opposition. He commended Ferrante for making safety a priority.
But he noted it was important to consider parental input and that their views were important in the conversation.
“What you shared with us is very important information,” he said. “The perspectives that you have as parents, which is how I’m trying to listen to this as a parent, it’s resonating.”
David London, a parent, said the board would have an update for parents at the Aug. 23 meeting. He warned it would put kids at risk who depended on the gate to get to school.
“The narrow streets in our beautiful neighborhood were not built to simultaneously and safely support the amount of volume coming from buses, garbage trucks, delivery trucks, gardeners, commuters and children walking to school,” he said. “This is the reason why so many families rely on the safety of the Cliff Way gate. Families often opt for a longer Cliff Way route, as they value the safety of their children over the convenience of a faster more direct path.”
There have long been complaints about traffic congestion in the community during school hours. In June, board members, police and other officials held a special town hall meeting to address the worries surrounding these issues.
Parents mirrored London’s sentiment. Some claimed the decision was an overreaction to the recent school shootings. They argued that a car accident is a much more likely scenario than the former.
Other parents, like Stan and Nora Lacy, said there would be issues even enforcing such a policy.
“The Cliff Way gate is not eight feet high with razor wire, it is four feet high,” said Stan. “And if I were 10 years old and a little bit late to school, I would jump it. I think that many children will choose to do that.”
He said that it would be preferable to find a solution for kids who continue to walk that route to school. He added it could be done with the existing staff only needing to make sure a path was clearly shown.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m. It will be livestreamed.