At 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, dismissal time for Hilton Head Island’s public middle and high schoolers, the line of parents and buses on Wilborn Road stretched on for half a mile.
Twenty minutes earlier, arriving parent Deena Krimey made it to Hilton Head Island High School — relatively far up in the line for the middle school — before she hit a standstill, and she didn’t expect to be able to drive away with her sixth grader for another 20. Even then, she would still have to contend with traffic streaming out of the high school, and the outgoing parents of seventh and eighth graders, whose children are dismissed from another area of the middle school.
“This way, the traffic isn’t as bad,” Krimey says of the two middle school pickup lines. Then she smiles because, well, it is.
Hilton Head parents said this week that congestion has been consistently bad since the start of the school year, and there’s little the Beaufort County School District can do to fix the problem.
The main culprit is a new bell schedule that gives middle and high schoolers a later start and, therefore, a later dismissal time. The Beaufort County School District created the new schedule last spring, and decided all middle and high schools would let out at the same time, 3:45 p.m.
For most clusters, that just takes some extra coordination. On Hilton Head, it also requires a lot of patience.
The middle and high school both reside on the far end of Wilborn Road, a mile-long loop of a street that’s also home to the cluster’s two elementary schools. In past years, buses could roll in ahead of the staggered dismissals — 2:45 p.m. for middle school, 3:20 p.m. or elementary school, 3:35 p.m. for high school.
Now, some of the 40 buses needed to transport middle and high school students at 3:45 p.m. are returning from elementary school routes at the same time parents are lining up, snaring parents and bus drivers alike in long lines.
There’s only one way in. You can’t really change that. Kerry Mayo, Beaufort County School District transportation director
While other schools have experienced some afternoon stress as well, the traffic is worst on Hilton Head, says Kerry Mayo, director of the district’s first in-house bus management system.
The district has hired an additional crossing guard for the Hilton Head campus, but has not done anything to change how the buses line up for dismissal.
“There’s only one way in,” he said Thursday. “You can’t really change that.”
Traffic has always been a challenge on Hilton Head, and will continue to be due to the configuration of the cluster’s property, said district spokesman Jim Foster. However, he and Mayo said the district is receiving few complaints compared to the beginning of the year, and that the congestion is much better than it was before the campus added another crossing guard to help move parents along.
Mayo said he thinks buses typically sit in line for three to five minutes, down from 15 at the start of the year.
On Wednesday, though, there were half a dozen school buses waiting in line with parents who said they’d been idling for 20 minutes.
“Obviously in transportation and traffic, every day’s a different day,” Mayo said. “We are monitoring the situation and security team and when we see we can do something better, we will.”
“Every minute counts in transportation.”