Dropping off our kids at school: An Interview with Mr. Heinz Fischböck, Deputy Head of Primary and Pre-Primary Cycle

by Mariella Spata

Mariella: How does the kiss & fly drop-off procedure work in our school?

H. Fischböck: It works better than we have expected; although the number of pupils has grown substantially over the years, I do not think that dangerous situations have increased. So far we have not had accidents this year; we had several accidents in the past where cars were damaged and a father once drove over the foot of somebody working for the school, but nothing serious happened. Accident data is recorded by the security men. Overall the kiss & fly procedure works fine and this is mainly for two reasons. Firstly, security men stand there and monitor traffic (they wear a yellow vest and I think most parents know them); and secondly, the bus system [run by PA] has brought down the number of cars. I think there are almost 150 children enrolled in the school buses [in fact there are 210 children in the morning] and that helps a lot.

M.: Does the quick-stop parking area have specific access rules and well-defined stopping limits?

H.F.: Yes, it does. It is not a parking area for parents – it is a drop off area and the sticker (vignette) is not a parking sticker but it is an entry sticker. However, not all parents are aware of this. There is one exception and that is if a child goes to Pre-Primary. Then Mummy or Daddy can park for a few minutes, take the child over to the modular building and come back quickly. That’s it. For children in P1-5 it should be really kiss & fly: just a quick stop – and leaving straight away.

Driving should be at a very low speed of course, a walking speed. The security men also monitor this and they always try to speed up the process (not the speed of the cars, of course!), but the process of the drop-off. In the parking area gate  A, as soon as you enter with your car, you can go only to the right or to the left side, security mainly stands there, so I think that the process is self-explanatory, there is no need to publish a site map of the parking area. There are also arrows there showing where to drive.

M.: What is the rule for Secondary pupils?

H.F.: Secondary parents should drop off their children somewhere down the road along the main street [Praunheimer Weg]. They are not meant to enter the parking area. I do not think that 12-, 15- or 16-year-olds need to be driven to the doorstep. The parking area should be used only for the drop-off of Primary pupils.

M.: How flexible is the school with drop-off times? When does the supervision of the pupils start?

H.F.: The external main gates are open at 7:30; teachers come at that time at school and I also arrive at this time. Lessons start at 8:30 and we have supervision from 8:10 onwards as this is the time we open the internal gate A and B. Before this time [8:10] it is the responsibility of the parents to supervise their children. I have to say that I do not understand why children have to wait outside for a long time before school starts. What does a child do for 20 or even 40 minutes before the school day begins? This is not helpful for a child...

We start at 8:30 because we do not want to clash with all the other schools around us. There are many other schools in the neighbourhood and they all start earlier. If we started at the same time we would then clash with the drop-off times of those schools.

M.: …But there is still traffic during the school drop-off time...

H.F.: Yes, there is traffic anyway but I have to say that when I look at the number of school buses, there is still scope for improvement. If we look at the school of Brussels [Brussels II] there are 3.000 pupils and around 60 buses; we have got half the number of pupils compared them, almost 1.500 pupils, so if I calculate correctly we could have 30 buses. However, so far we do not have 30 buses we have only 6 [in the morning]. An increase in the number of buses and minibuses would definitively help reduce traffic during drop-off time at our school.

M.: As you know, arrival has become more dangerous since many parents drive their kids to school and turn before entering the parking area, where pupils and bicycles are passing through.

H.F.: Normally it is possible to enter the parking area and to drive without turning and without reversing. The security men will guide you to the left or the right side of the parking area gate A, and there it is not necessary to turn or push back. The only problem could be if you have got a Hummer car, which is a very large car… that could be tricky! So I would not enter the parking area with such a car. I have also reminded parents quite often that they should not reverse in the parking area. Although all modern cars have cameras, children can appear suddenly behind you, from the left or from the right and this is really dangerous.

M.: Also off site, on the street, the process is chaotic; coordination with local government is a key factor to be considered. Is the school willing to discuss with the city of Frankfurt how to reduce the traffic near the school?

H.F.: There is no parking area in the main street [Praunheimer Weg]. As I have said before, Secondary parents can drop off their children in the main street because they do not park, that is not forbidden. There are no plans with the local authority either to reduce speed limits or to make it a one-way street in the morning. There are no plans with the local government because we would definitively not get those through. Although we are a school, the main street is a through road. In the main street if you look at the traffic in the morning there are hundreds of cars belonging to people living in Niederursel area and there is nothing that we can do about it. We cannot interfere with the traffic situation in the main street. But we do have contact with the local police because we ask them to come when things are very bad, when traffic is very chaotic. We do have that and it helps.

M.: Separating or eliminating conflicts between students arriving on foot or bicycle from those arriving by buses and cars is highly recommended. Do you think it may be feasible to provide specific routes for pedestrians and cyclists, e.g. dedicated sidewalks or walkways?

H.F.: Everybody has to go through the same entrance. We asked traffic experts some time ago to resolve this but how would you do that? You need more parking lots. I would suggest that parents only drop their children off near the pavement along the long U-turn near gate A and not in other parts of the parking area. That’s logical... I do not like to see children crossing the parking area but the reality is that it happens. On the left side [of the parking area gate A] where the buses arrive, the security men do not let the buses come in if there are children there, so I have not seen any dangerous situations on the left side of the parking area. The buses are large and they need quite a long curve to reach the parking area and this is the only area where the drop-off of children can be safely done. We cannot have buses parking somewhere else because then children would run and cross the parking area and that would make no sense. [Furthermore], we have got more than 150 staff members who mostly have to come by car as they do not live close by, and have to park their cars at school. So what we have at the end is a drop-off & parking area for mixed use.

M.: Could the arriving buses be potentially dangerous for the children gathered at the gate A before 8:10?

H.F.: I am out there quite often and I do not think that buses came before 8:10 more than 10 times this school year (100 school days so far). Buses normally arrive later, after 8:10, when the internal gates A and B open and children go to their classes. Buses very often arrive late. Our problem is not the early arrival of the buses [before 8:10] but instead their late arrival… [late arrival due to delays, traffic and bad weather conditions]. At the moment we have a number of children entering through gate M, not just Pre-Primary and P1 pupils but also P2-4 children come via gate M. Some parents also go along the other road [Heilmannstrasse], where there is a short path to gate M, therefore they completely avoid parking in the school parking area. They have found a better solution! Gate C is used mainly by teachers and by parents with children in the modular building.

M.: What procedure is followed by the school buses in the morning?

H.F.: The buses arrive in the parking area gate A; children get off directly onto the pavement and go to their classes. Children do not cross the parking area. Buses do not arrive at the same time and there are up to 6-8 teachers outside in the parking area to help and supervise the children when they get off the bus. The number of colleagues there is enough. Teachers group the pupils together [PP and P1] and when one group is complete they take them to their classes in the modular building. Children are also safe during the procedure because the pavement is about two meters wide and there is a red rope at the fence, a signal to show that they should not stand near the road but instead near the fence.

M.: …Perhaps in the future the PA should replace the red rope with a more visible and effective signal...

H.F.: Yes, why not have a clearer signal to stand there...

M.: Municipal authorities in various cities offer activities aimed at teaching pupils how to use public transport. What does the school provide in road education and training?

H.F.: We have road education trainings in Pre-Primary and Primary. We have got a very good connection with the city of Frankfurt and the local police. We organise road safety trainings every year to several year groups; and trainings are regularly planned in the school calendar.

M.: And what about training to educate pupils on how to behave when using public or school transport?

H.F.: To be honest, I do not see that the school has the main responsibility for educating children on how to behave on a bus. I have to say that very clearly. I would like to tell a story. When I went to grammar school, it was far away from where I lived so I went by bus every day. The bus was organised by a public company, not by the school, and if there was a problem with behaviour, parents were informed and children could no longer use the bus. Our school bus is organised by the Parents’ Association and we are very grateful to the PA because it is very well done. But I do not see the PA as being responsible for children’s behaviour on the bus. Parents also have to take their share of responsibility. In the field of education our school has always tried hard to promote positive behaviour and attitude but this can only be done effectively if it is done as a joint venture with parents.