Westchase parents claim traffic chaos at dismissal time endangers kids at Farnell Middle School

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough County parents say it gets pretty wild every day when more than 1,200 kids pour out of Farnell Middle School at dismissal time and race toward parental pick up points in the Winn Dixie plaza next door.

“This is a disaster. This looks like a carnival in a parking lot where they didn’t stop the traffic,” said parent Frank DeCiutiis. “You got the ice cream man, you’ve got trucks going by you’ve got cars waiting. The cars are backed out the road. We’re in a loading dock.”

To complicate matters, Farnell’s school sidewalk ends near the main entrance, prompting kids to navigate a narrow dirt trail that leads to a busy parking lot at the Winn Dixie plaza. That’s where many Farnell parents choose to pick up their children rather than waiting in the official car line leading into the school. 

“We do discourage that,” said Hillsborough School District spokeswoman Tanya Arja. “We want our parents to go into the car line.”

Some of the parents in the Winn Dixie lot block customer traffic while their kids crowd past a retail tire store that poses other traffic dangers of its own.

Meanwhile, because there is only one way in and out of the school itself, late-running buses are forced to drive around the official parent pick-up car line, cross a double yellow line and drive the wrong way down the school entrance road in order to reach the bus line in the rear of the school. 8 On Your side watched that happen twice with school buses and once with a private van service parents pay to pick up their kids due to the recent end of courtesy busing.

DeCiutiis, who has appealed to the district to address safety problems, insists it’s an impossibly dangerous situation.

“You have the buses on this side and you have traffic waiting on this side, you have people back here, you have people waiting back over here. This is not — there’s one way in and one way out,” DeCiutiis said.

An ice cream vendor who tells 8 On Your Side he’s been watching the chaos unfold daily for three years insists it’s not getting any better.

“I actually lost a child to a car so I’m very aware, I try to be really, really aware,” said Cliff Tatum. 

Tatum sometimes takes action on his own to protect kids he believes are in harm’s way in the Winn Dixie parking lot where he parks his truck at dismissal time.

“I’ve gotten out of my truck on a couple of occasions,” Tatum said. “I holler at ‘em.”

8 On Your Side contacted the school district Friday with the concerns expressed by Tatum, DeCiutiis and other parents. On Monday, Superintendent Jeff Eakins, his school district facilities manager and School Board Member Susan Valdes personally visited Farnell to evaluate the danger.

“These are ultimately our students so we want to make sure students are getting to school safely and getting home safely,” Arja said.

The school district already plans to extend the sidewalk next to Farnell and administrators are looking at ways to keep buses from having to cross a double yellow line to get past all the parents waiting in line. Farnell’s principal has been telling parents for weeks to stop clogging up the Winn Dixie parking lot, but based on the chaos we witnessed Friday, they’re not listening.

“We want to make sure if there’s anything else we can do as a district we’re doing it,” Arja said.

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