Jennie E. Hewitt Elementary School teachers and aides claim they have been harassed by residents of Bradford Court and Fountain Avenue for parking legally in front of their houses, as the district continues to seek a solution to what some staff members said has gotten out of hand.
An open gate at Bradford Court, a dead-end street adjacent to Hewitt, is an alternate entrance for parents dropping off and picking up their children, as well as for staff members whose vehicles do not fit in the school’s parking lot. The school employs more than 100 people, but only has 72 parking spaces, according to Principal Elizabeth Pryke, and some people must find spots on neighboring streets.
Residents of Bradford and Fountain Avenue — which runs perpendicular to the dead-end street — voiced frustration with the school district at a Board of Education meeting in September, saying the congestion on the streets has gotten worse in recent years, creating an unpleasant and dangerous atmosphere.
But their ire has reportedly shifted from the school district to the teachers. Staff members have reported being yelled at by residents who threaten to have the cars towed as they leave their vehicle, Pryke said, and have photographed and recorded them as they park and walk to work.
“One neighbor called and said that the person’s window was open,” she noted, “and that she was going to put her sprinkler on to try to get water inside their car.”
Other residents have called Hewitt’s main office to rant about the cars parked in front of their houses, according to Catherine Botta, Pryke’s secretary, who said she could not tell staff members to move from legal spots.
“I’ve had permanent subs come in who’ve had notes on their car, or were photographed getting out of their car, who were asked not to park in front of someone’s house,” Botta added. “…I’ve also had staff members visibly shaken by their experience from an angry neighbor, and that’s disheartening.”
Botta noted that she lives on Milford Place, next to South Side Middle School, and experiences similar congestion on her street during school hours and events. “We knew what we bought when we bought our house,” she said. “We knew that we were buying next to a school and everything good or bad that comes with that.”
One Hewitt staff member found a note on her car, saying that it is a “very disturbing and horrible view.” The note added, “The workmen or my guests do not want to look at your car. I pay very high taxes to put up with this.”
Michelle Ebel, who has taught at Hewitt for 18 years, said she received two emails last week from co-workers who returned to their cars after school and found vehicles in front and behind, appearing to be purposely blocking them in. The woman in the car behind — described similarly in both cases — told one of the staff members not to park in front of her house, but eventually moved, according to the emails.
“This is bullying,” Ebel said. “We sit here as educators and we educate these children, and we have assemblies, and the PTA spends money on all of this work for anti-bullying and character education, and we have adults that are doing it to us.”
Another windshield note, left by the wife of Fountain Avenue resident Jack Shelley, asked the driver of the car — parked legally — to park farther from their driveway so they could see while backing out.
Shelley, who has lived on Fountain Avenue for 30 years, said that residents put out orange cones one day to prevent people from parking in front of their homes, but the police came and told them to stop. Despite his wife’s note, he told the Herald that he doesn’t blame the teachers, and suggested that the district convert the grassy area on the other side of the Bradford Court gate into a parking area. “Nobody’s here to give anyone a hard time,” Shelley said. “We understand the problem.”
Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson, who was informed of the teacher’s complaints, met with nine Bradford and Fountain residents on Oct. 27 to discuss potential solutions. “I’m not the police, so I can’t enforce anything,” Johnson said. “All I can do is share with them the complaints that our teachers have shared with me.
“I was surprised,” he continued, “because the people who have been coming to our meetings and that showed up today are very respectful, thoughtful residents of this community. I don’t know who’s doing it. I think they were surprised also.”
Johnson added that the district would be monitoring the situation for potential solutions. “There may be some short-term fixes in the near future,” he said, “but right now, anything that’s involving the expenditure of a significant amount of school district money would involve a budgetary discussion, and that’s long-term.”