MADEIRA BEACH — By the time the 1:55 elementary school dismissal bell rings, the car line at Madeira Beach Fundamental is overflowing from the school's parking lot. At 2:05, 10 minutes before the dismissal bell for middle school, the marquee board outside the school flashes a peak wait time of 10 minutes. By that time, the parking lot of the Walgreens across the Tom Stuart Causeway, which 10 minutes earlier was fairly empty, has filled as well.
When the 2:15 dismissal bell rings, a deluge of middle schoolers pours off the elevated crosswalk that starts at the school and dumps into the Walgreens parking lot.
The issue has sparked the ire of Walgreens and others in the community.
"Our parking lots are first and foremost for the safety, convenience and accessibility of our customers," Walgreens' corporate spokesperson Phil Caruso said.
A newsletter sent to Madeira Beach Fundamental parents in October 2015 said law enforcement officials have been called after groups of students linger for hours after dismissal time.
Parents have received messages from principal Chris Ateek in the monthly newsletters, PTSA meetings and weekly calls. Sometimes he even crosses onto the Walgreens lot to tell parents himself to use the car line across the street.
"I'd much rather be in my car line right now," he said one day when he was in the lot across the street from his school. "My car line is safe, effective and offers air-conditioned comfort."
Ateek said the issue is more complicated than just impatient parents.
"I don't want to paint with a fat brush," he said. "Some of our students live in the community and shop at Walgreens after school. My concerns is that the school wants to be a good steward of the community. In order to be good neighbors, we ask our families to use the car line, which is effective and efficient."
Ateek said there are safety issues involved as well. The overpass, which stretches across Tom Stuart Causeway, empties into a parking lot that borders a road carrying 27,500 cars a day.
Scott Spindel, who has a seventh-grader at the school, said he parks across the street at the Madeira Beach Shopping Center, but meets his son where the overpass from the school dumps into the Walgreens lot. He leaves straight from work to pick up his son and said by the time he arrives, the car line is difficult to join.
"I understand the safety concerns, but the car line takes much, much longer," he said. "This is much more convenient."
Ateek said educating parents will help.
"We live in a go-go-go society," he said. "A car line is like a microcosm of society. There are people who follow the rules and people who don't, but education helps."
Contact Divya Kumar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @divyadivyadivya.