Crowded NJ district puts students too close to road, parents say
MONROE (Middlesex) — This township's public schools are so overcrowded that the district wants to place middle school students in trailers just feet from a busy highway — a decision that parents are opposing.
Parents say they are concerned about car crashes as well as putting children closer to harm's way if there is ever a school shooting.
District officials say there is little they can do after township voters defeated a $68.8 million referendum that would have funded the construction of a new building. Former Superintendent Michael G. Kozak told MyCentralJersey.com he was "extremely disappointed" that the effort failed by less than 200 votes.
The town is one of the state's fastest growing, with a 20 percent boom in population between 2009 and 2016.
That growth has packed schools with hundreds more students. District officials this year said the district is 1,500 students over capacity. The middle school is 500 students over capacity.
Within weeks of the referendum failing, the Township Council agreed to acquire a driving range through eminent domain. The idea is to eventually use the property on Applegarth Road to build a new middle school once funding is available. An agreement allows the golf facility to operate through the fall of next year.
A petition on Change.org has garnered more than 2,000 signatures, and organizers hope that district administrators will at least agree to move the trailers.
Rochelle Fennell, one of the parents concerned about the trailers, said they were planning to bring the petition to the district office on Friday in hopes that their concerns will be addressed.
"A lot of parents didn't know that that's the location of where they're going to be," Fennell said. "A lot of parents found out just by driving by that that's where their children were going to be placed."
Chrissy Skurbe, president of the Monroe Township Middle School Parent Staff Association, said residents have seen too many crashes on Perrineville Road not to be concerned. She said one parent measured the grassy area between the road and the trailers at approximately 30 feet.
Skurbe said the trailers obscure sight lines from the main school building, making it very difficult to see what is happening on all sides of the trailers.
"As much as cars and traffic pose a risk, in today's day and age you have to worry about school shootings," she said. "That's the age that we're living in that we as parents have to be concerned about that. If security can't see the side of the trailers, they don't know what could be waiting on the other side."
The building that currently houses the middle school was once the high school until a new school was built a few years ago. Parents have said that when trailers were used for the previous high school they were put in a different spot on the property. A letter from the district said this new location was chosen to allow for water and sewer to be connected.
Acting Superintendent Robert Goodall said the district considered the safety of the students when placing the trailers.
"Our experiences in the past are consistent with the fact that trailers with in-house water and bathrooms allow for optimal learning and secure environments for our students and staff," Goodall said. "The safety and security of our students and staff remains our number one priority."
Goodall's letter said the district is discussing options of "protective barriers" that could be put around the trailers.
Fennell said the district could install a temporary bathroom trailer.
"The current set up is highly unsafe and will be totally unfair to the hundreds of students who are chosen to be placed in these trailers for an entire school year," the petition said. "Building a barrier is unacceptable. If one has to consider placing barriers for protections, that obviously means the location is unsafe."