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Police cite parents parked at school

Nine parents parked behind Northwest Elementary School on 24th Avenue N were ticketed Tuesday afternoon.

Parents picking up their children from Northwest Elementary School on Wednesday drove away with more than they anticipated. Nine parking tickets were issued to those who waited for their youngsters on the 5600 block of 24th Avenue N.

"I've been doing this for two years. Now all of a sudden we get ticketed for it," said Pamela Calloway, mother of a 5-year-old and 7-year-old who attends the school.

Calloway, along with dozens of other parents, has been avoiding congested traffic in front of the school on 22nd Avenue N by driving behind the building to wait for the 2:45 p.m. dismissal.

She said parents begin lining up there at 2 p.m. since the district eliminated busing within a 2-mile radius of the school last year. Traffic and waiting time are eliminated by driving through 24th Avenue N, she said.

Lt. Randy Bratton of the St. Petersburg Police Department said residents have been complaining to the police and transportation departments for weeks.

"The residents are unified in their frustration," he said. "This creates a hazardous situation because it's multiple cars stopping, and children running between cars. This is a very real problem for the people who live here. They can't exit their driveways or drive through the street."

Bratton said that since the citations were issued by two officers with assistance from a community police officer, he received two phone calls of appreciation and two complaints of unfairness.

The alternative is to park a couple blocks away and wait for pupils to walk to cars, a situation with which most parents are uncomfortable.Parents also can walk to the school and wait for pupils, which is unfeasible for those with young children waiting in the car.

Calloway said 24th Avenue N neighbors gave their permission in the beginning of the year, so long as no one blocked their driveways. But on Tuesday, an officer issued a verbal warning to parents.

"He was a wonderful officer, as lovely as the day is long," Debi Reardon said of Officer Willie Jennings. Reardon, mother of a 10-year-old daughter who attends the school and of an 8-month-old and 3-year-old who wait in the car with her every day, said Jennings explained that people on the street were complaining and that no one would be allowed to park and wait. "I completely understood," she said.

But on Wednesday, Reardon was issued a ticket at 2:58 p.m. by an officer who she said "banged on the hood of my car and screamed at me to pull over."

"I know they're there to do their job. But his aggression was unnecessary," Reardon said."It unnerved everyone. I tried to explain to the officer that I had already talked with Jennings and agreed not to park on the street. But he wouldn't hear it.".

Reardon said she could understand residents' opposition to cars lining up on the street. "I wouldn't want cars parked out there either. But I wasn't parked. My children were in the car and I was driving maybe 5 mph."

Calloway was among the parents who were not present to hear the warning given on Tuesday. She said if neighboring residents were having a problem with the cars, they should have attended a PTA meeting to address their concerns or notified the school, which then could have alerted parents in its newsletter.

"What happened was humiliating for us all," Calloway said. "Neighbors were standing there cheering on the police. Police were yelling at us, and our children were watching this.".

Bratton said the nine "no parking" signs on 24th Avenue N have been in place for more than a year. On the north side, signs read "no parking during school hours." On the south side, signs read "no parking, stopping or standing."

The $30 tickets claim violation in a "no parking, stopping or standing" zone. Calloway said she and others may fight the ticket in traffic court because the signs posted on the side of the street she was driving state "no parking during school hours." Calloway's ticket was issued at 2:55 p.m.

"This was after school, and I was not parked. I was in the car with my children, waiting in line to drive away," said Calloway. She said she also will write a letter of complaint to the police department because of the "nasty way officers treated us."

Reardon said she will pay her ticket but also will write a letter of complaint to the police department. "I'm here to pick up my child," she said. "I'm not a felon and shouldn't have been treated like one. But the whole point of this is that school parking is diabolical. It was designed horribly and inadequately."

Calloway said: "Somehow parents, the community and the school have to get together and try to solve the parking problem.".