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Parents, students express safety concerns on placement of portable classrooms at Monroe Township Middle School

After outcry from parents and students, Monroe school officials are discussing ways to make the area around the much-needed portable classrooms, which are currently being constructed in front of Monroe Township Middle School, safer. Parents and students held a march on July 30.

MONROE — Following an outcry from parents and students, Monroe Township School District administrators are discussing ways to make the area around portable classrooms, which are currently being constructed in front of the Monroe Township Middle School, safer.

In a letter to parents on July 30, acting Superintendent of Schools Robert Goodall said, “The safety and security of our students and staff is of the highest priority in considering this needed addition to the facility as a result of the continuing increasing enrollment and educational programs at our middle school.

“The current footprint and construction of the trailers was deemed necessary for
efficient connection to underground water and sewer lines. This condition of the project was based on administrative and community input that these additional classrooms must have in-house access to water and bathrooms for students and staff.

“Our experiences in the past are consistent with the fact that trailers with in-house water and bathrooms allow for optimal learning and secure environments for our students and staff,” Goodall said.

Lindsay Fennell, who will enter seventh grade in September, said she does not feel safe with the portable classrooms.

“I don’t feel safe in the trailers and I don’t feel safe for any of my fellow students,” Lindsay said as she held a sign which stated “Not My Classroom.”

Lindsay joined fellow students and parents at a march in front of the trailers on July 30 during which they requested district administrators to reconsider the placement of the trailers near Perrineville Road. Many marchers held signs which stated “Safety Comes First” and “Keep Our Kids Safe.”

The march was organized by Lindsay’s mom, Rochelle Fennell. Participants were asked to wear blue to show unity.

Lindsay, along with Monroe Township Middle School students Marissa Schrob and Ryan Sigman, said school officials did not tell students about what to expect with the portable classrooms.

Marissa, who is heading into eighth grade, said she joined the march because she wants to make sure students in her school are safe.

Fennell said she started a petition on change.org which has garnered close to 2,000 signatures.

“The parents of Monroe Township are very concerned about the proximity of the trailers at the middle school in relation to the road,” she said in the petition. “As you know, Perrineville Road is a very busy road and has had its share of accidents in recent years. The accident from last year clearly proves we cannot have our children so close to the road. We do not want our children to be placed in arm’s length of cars, school buses, trucks, etc.”

Former Superintendent of Schools Michael Kozak had sent a letter to parents explaining that a driver lost control of his vehicle on Perrineville Road and struck the scoreboard near the football field on the morning of Oct. 3, 2017. No students were injured in the accident.

Parents at the march talked about potential weather conditions and shared concerns about how students will get back and forth in the four- to five-minute window between classes.

Fennell said the trailers were on the side of the school years ago, when the building was a high school.

“Any modifications to the existing building or sewer lines if needed should be made to enable the placement of these trailers in the back, away from the main road,” she said. “Temporary portable restroom trailers could possibly be used in the interim. The current set-up is highly unsafe and will be totally unfair to the hundreds of students who are chosen to be placed in these trailers for an entire school year.

“Building a barrier is unacceptable. If one has to consider placing barriers for protection, that obviously means the location is unsafe. The trailers need to be moved prior to this school year in order to prevent what could be a very tragic incident,” Fennell said.

In a letter, Goodall explained that the decision to lease the additional portable classrooms came to fruition following a year-long deliberative process.

“During this process, the Board of Education and district administration analyzed, among other items, current and projected future enrollment, the need for additional teaching and support staff, safety considerations and feedback from our past experiences when the board added portable classrooms to our schools,” he said.

Goodall further stated that board members and district administrators publicly discussed the project at numerous committee meetings and board meetings throughout the past year, allowing for public comment and suggestions from community members.

He said the site plans, financial investment and subsequent final approval were validated by a rigorous and transparent process. Goodall said the safety and security of students and staff members remains the district’s No. 1 priority.

“To this end, discussions regarding the installation of protective barriers along the perimeter of the trailer footprint, among other items, are continuing,” he said. “Once a final decision is arrived at in this regard, I will provide parents with additional information.”

Krishna Tekale, a parent of a middle school student, said the administration’s letter is ambiguous.

“This is about the safety and security of our students,” he said, adding discussions about a barricade is a temporary solution.

Resident Ilene Anis walked across the street from her home in the Greenbriar adult community to support the parents and students at the march.

“[The portable classrooms] are an eyesore and it will impact the future if anyone wants to sell their place,” Anis said, adding the area is not safe for the students.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.

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