Nearly a half hour after Hilton Head Island Elementary School was dismissed Monday, more than 150 students were still waiting to be picked up, their parents unable to reach them.
"We have more children here than we have cars," principal Jill McAden said during the time for student pickup. "So clearly, no one can get into the school and no one can get out of here."
Monday not only marked a new school year but the first day of a new start time for Hilton Head Island High School, across from the elementary school. Instead of beginning school at 7:45 a.m. and letting out at about 2:30 p.m., as in previous years, classes now begin at 8:35 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
The adjustment is intended to better suit high school students' biological clocks and improve their academic performance, but it also makes for a traffic tangle, some schools officials said.
Last year, an hour separated the elementary and high schools' dismissal times. That allowed the elementary school students to depart campus within about 20 minutes of dismissal, McAden said.
But with only 15 minutes separating dismissal times Monday, departing traffic was at a near standstill for more than 45 minutes. McAden said the elementary school has a half-hour window for parents to drop students off in the morning, a feature that alleviated traffic congestion early in the day.
However, high school principal Amanda O'Nan said the traffic wasn't as bad as she expected. She thought some student drivers might have to wait more than 40 minutes to get out of the parking lots.
O'Nan, McAden and district officials worked with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the town throughout the summer to determine the best ways to direct traffic and ensure safety.
"We prepared as much as possible," McAden said. "But I really think we just had to get to this day, to see what it was going to look like and what we need to do to fix it."
O'Nan said slight changes to dismissal times or directing traffic off campus differently could help.
For several years, the high school dismissed at about the same time as Hilton Head Island Middle School, which also borders the high school campus. O'Nan said that at first, traffic was congested then, too, but school officials eventually figured out how to make it flow. She expects the same to happen with the new schedule.
"Traffic safety is always a concern with our students being young, new drivers, and the elementary students now out at the same time," O'Nan said. "But we will just need to look at the logistics of everything to get it running like a well-oiled machine."
Elsewhere around the district, things ran more smoothly, as more than 20,000 students filed into schools, spokesman Jim Foster said.
Despite significant changes to some bus routes, such as consolidating stops and routes to make them more efficient, the district received few complaints from parents Monday, Foster said.
The district will continue to monitor routes, as well as drop-off and pickup loops at the schools to make sure traffic moves safely, head of student services Gregory McCord said.
At most schools, attendance nearly matched expected enrollment, Foster said. He said an online registration tool put into place last year helped schools receive more up-to-date and accurate student information.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Hilton Head High to have later start time next school year, March 8, 2014
- School district changes bus routes, adds GPS tracking, August 10, 2014
- Beaufort students head back to school: Few hiccups reported Monday morning, August 19, 2013