The yellow school buses lumbering along area roadways were an obvious signal to passing motorists Tuesday that most students in the Brainerd lakes area have returned to school.
But some motorists apparently didn't understand that message. Outside Harrison Elementary School several cars passed through the crosswalk along Oak Street, oblivious to the fourth-grade school patrol members dressed in bright yellow raincoats who had stepped off the curb and were trying to stop traffic using their flags in the rain.
With about 1,000 more Brainerd students expected to walk or get rides from their parents this school year because of a change in the transportation policy, school district staff weren't sure how many students would walk or get a ride. And with Tuesday's rain, it was difficult to gauge how many students will eventually end up walking or getting rides to and from school and how that will impact traffic around each of the schools, particularly the six remaining elementary schools.
Ann Hoshal walked her son, Alexander Chinn, 5, to Harrison Elementary School in the rain on his first day of school Tuesday in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Sort of," Hayley Buchite, a Harrison fourth-grader and school patrol member, said, when asked if she was nervous about stopping vehicles outside the school. An adult supervisor provided direction for the school patrol members to help them become comfortable with their new roles.
Brainerd School Board member Kent Montgomery stood in the rain outside Harrison and watched as the school patrols escorted parents and other students across the busy roadway before school began. Montgomery was volunteering to take head counts, finding out how many students walked to school, how many were walking with their parents or an adult and how many were dropped off by parents. A volunteer stood at each of the four corners of the school building, trying to determine how traffic flow has changed outside the school now that more students are walking or getting rides with parents. Head counts will be taken all week.
Kala Henkensiefken, director of transportation for the Brainerd School District, said student busing went well Tuesday, other than a small percentage of buses that arrived late to school, which is typical on the first day.
Henkensiefken said one reason why buses are late on the first day of school is because parents of kindergarten students often want to take their child's picture getting on the bus.
"The bus routes will get better each day this week," said Henkensiefken. "The elementary schools will release the students from school early this week so bus drivers have more time to check bus cards and get to know the students."
Henkensiefken said this year the pick-up at Baxter Elementary School has changed to attempt to alleviate traffic congestion. Student pick-ups are behind the school in the parking lot to make more room for buses in front of the school. Steve Lundberg, Baxter Elementary School principal, said the school went from 67 students being picked up by their parents to 100-150 being picked up this school year.
Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said there wasn't a problem with pedestrian traffic at Forestview Middle School Tuesday but walkers are a safety concern at Baxter Elementary School. Exsted said it was difficult to determine how many walkers the school will eventually have due to the rain.
Jane Fritscher, Garfield Elementary School principal, said Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church adopted Garfield this school year and church volunteers helped patrol the sidewalk corners helping students. Fritscher said 84 students did not qualify for transportation and most of them walked to school with umbrellas and their parents.
Nisswa Principal Erin Herman said extra safety measures were implemented for walkers, including new paint for the pedestrian crosswalk and a speed detector placed on a trailer near the school. The school has 16 students ineligible for busing.
"It was smooth sailing and we had no problems with pedestrians or traffic, other than a little congestion at the schools and parents parking in no parking zones," said Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc.
Bolduc said one of the biggest problems on Tuesday was that parents were parking in the designated bus zones. Bolduc said this happens every year but increased student enrollment, particularly at the elementary schools, has created additional traffic volume. He said officers will be handing out tickets within the next few days if parents don't comply.
"We are insisting that parents do not drop kids off in designated bus zones," said Bolduc. "Everybody was safe, but we don't want bad habits to start at the start of the school year."
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