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Hanging out in the School Carpool Line

My school carpool line going in zig-zag pattern through the parking lot

My school carpool line going in zig-zag pattern through the parking lot

I’ve heard a lot about the notorious carpool lines at schools from other parents in the past. Now, that my daughter goes to Kindergarten, I experienced it first hand.
I used to walk her into daycare, later pre-K (pre-Kindergarten) and other than a locked door sometimes, there were no security systems in place.

The new school, which combines Kindergarten, Elementary and Middle School in one building is like a maximum security facility. Sadly, this is necessary in the U.S. nowadays after several deadly shootings in different schools during recent years.

No Walking School

Back to carpool lines. My daughter’s school is classified as a “no walking school”, which means you cannot just walk into the school and either have to arrive by bus or by car through the carpool line. Although there’s plenty of parking space around the school, you can’t just stop and let your kids out of the car or walk with them to the entrance.

In order to participate in the school carpool line I had to buy a carpool number for 2 bucks, that I hang on the rear-view mirrow of my car, so that the school staff knows what kid I am picking up. My daughter needs to memorize this number, too, because they are not going to call her name when I drive up, but her number. This is all for maximum efficiency and to assure to keep the waiting time for both parents and kids to a minimum.

The Morning Drop-off

School for my daughter starts at 8:15am and this is different in every school. Drop off times are up to exactly 8:13am. If I would arrive one minute later, I would have to walk with my daughter to the front office and sign in with a photo ID in order to drop her off. She would also get a tardiness note for being late, even though it would be my fault.

So, I make sure to arrive at the school premises on time and depending on when I get there, I usually stand in the carpool line for 10-15 minutes. The mornings are usually pretty fast, but you still have to wait until you get to the front of the line and reach the “safe zone” for kids to leave the car. There are 2-3 school employees who make sure that the line is moving fast and that parents are dropping off their kids in the designated area only.

The Afternoon Pick-Up

That's a really good sign. Unfortunately not in my daughter's school. (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND)

That’s a really good sign. Unfortunately not in my daughter’s school. (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND)

After school the fun really begins, because if you don’t want your kid to wait a long time to be picked up, you have to arrive at the school very early in order to claim a good spot in the carpool line. My wife is usually in line 45 minutes (!) before the kids are coming out and there are about 30-40 cars in front of her already. Some parents just stay in their air conditioned, idling car for an hour and others bring their camping chairs for a little tailgaiting and meeting other parents on the parking lot.
While everybody is waiting for their kid, a school employee is walking through the car line and speaking the carpool numbers into a walkie-talkie to a co-worker inside of the building. They are lining up the kids in the order of the cars to make the pick up procedure as efficient as possible. Every kid has to have their bag strapped on their back, ready to go as soon as their numbers gets called. Doesn’t matter if they’re having to wait 30 minutes. The bag stays on their bag.

Once the line starts moving, I have to wait until I reach the designated pick up area, no matter if my kid already saw me and is walking toward my car. Rules are rules and the school employees are making sure to yell at me if I fall out of line or try to cut any corners. Most important principle is to keep the line moving. Parents are also not supposed to get out of the car to help their kids in.

Pros and Cons

I keep debating if this system is beneficial or just overly cautious. On the one hand I can see that child’s safety has priority and that it could get a little crazy on the parking lot, if 150 cars are arriving and leaving at the same time. It’s also a lot more common for parents to pick up their kids from school compared to how I remember it from Germany. So coordination of the increased traffic might be the necessary evil.


On the other hand it’s wasting a lot of time on the parents side to not giving them the option to just dropping off their kids somewhere on the school’s premises and trusting them to walk themselves in on the school’s sidewalks. There are plenty of kids who walk into school every day, but there are too many crazies and pedophiles out there, which gets everybody paranoid about child safety.

Then there’s the well known convenience of a lot of parents, who don’t even think about leaving their air conditioned car and walk a few steps.  I would be happy to park my car, walk up to the entrance and pick up my daughter right when she walks out, then walk her back to my car and drive home.
The only issue I could see is that it could be challenging to find a parking spot when everybody arrives at the same time. Especially if parents are competing for the spots closest to the school like they do in mall parking lots.

I maybe just grew up in too much of a small town in Germany, because I never experienced a carpool line there. It just didn’t exist and was not really needed. Most kids either walked or rode their bikes to school. The others, who lived further away, took the bus. On rare occasions I got picked up from school by my Mom, which was always a highlight, because I didn’t have to spend the next hour in the bus.

Have school carpool lines always be common in the U.S.? Or is it just the times that have changed?

What’s your opinion about carpool lines at schools? Is it a good or uneccessary invention?

3 Responses to “Hanging out in the School Carpool Line”

  1. Zhou says:

    Wow, it’s got that bad in the states? I should have figured that with all of the school shootings they would implement a system like that. Heaven forbid the school board get sued for not making the Kindergarten a medium security prison in the name of “safety”. The times, they are a’ changin’

    Obviously, I think it is a terrible idea. It just seems crazy that a student can’t walk to school but must enter the grounds by either bus or in a carpool lane. All that is really needed to secure a school is to limit access INTO the school with a secure checkpoint. In my old hometown, Detroit, they had medal detectors and armed guards at most schools to combat gang related crime but kids could still walk to school. It was all about keeping the guns out of schools – which should be the goal. No walking to school – how does that prevent a school shooting? Child abduction? If someone wants to kidnap someone that much, they are going to find a way to it in a place other than near school.

    I live in China now and the schools here are all surrounded by high walls and only have one or two gates to let anyone in or out. Plus the schools have 20 or so full time guards who man the gates and patrol the grounds (we had knife attacks here so security is high as well). Works just fine. But the kids can still walk to school or ride the public bus systems home at the end of the day.

    This, this is just too much.

    When I was a kid back in the 80’s and 90’s, we had both a carpool lane and a parking lot. Your mom just told you where she was going to be and it was no big deal. In and out in 10 or 15 minutes – even at my high school, which had 2,500 students.

  2. Laura says:

    This would absolutely drive me crazy. I was born and raised in the SF Bay Area and have never heard of this. I see kids walking to and from school everyday. Perhaps something happen at your daughter’s school that is causing this?

  3. At least it’s more enlightening than one of the reality Television stars,
    kim who? Joey what?

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