Council expands school zones

Kenner — Kenner drivers will need to slow down a little later when driving near the city’s schools, after the Kenner City Council changed school zone time limits to account for extended school days caused by Hurricane Isaac.

Council members voted to extend school zones as late as 5 p.m. to account for students who will be spending time in classrooms after Hurricane Isaac forced school closures for up to a week in some cases. New signage will be posted throughout the city announcing the changes after the city has time to decide how times will be affected near every school.

Councilwoman Maria Defrancesch proposed the change, saying she wanted to make certain students were remaining safe even after longer days. She said many drivers would not know about the extension of school days without signage and would assume the normal speed limits were in effect.

“The whole purpose of this ordinance was to make sure the signs would be posted,” Defrancesch said.

The Jefferson Parish School System plans to make up about 2,500 minutes of instruction time lost during Isaac, and to that end students will be staying in class about 30 minutes longer each day. The district considered requiring students to miss some holiday days or attend school on weekends, but principals decided that the best option was increasing the school day. The change began in October and will continue until March 1, according to information provided by Monica Pierre, a school system spokeswoman. Principals have wide discretion in how they use the additional time. Acting Jefferson Parish schools Superintendent James Meza said he’d actually like to see school days extended permanently to improve students’ academic performance.

The change in times was mildly controversial when it was adopted by the School Board, and the change in speed limits times sparked some debate among the council. The biggest area of concern, raised by Council Chairwoman Michele Branigan, was about the possibility that school zones might be in effect from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the city. Branigan noted that seemed like a bit of an imposition on drivers.

Several other council members expressed concern about the new guidelines being enforced uniformly. Councilman Keith Reynaud sought assurances from the city that drivers wouldn’t be ticketed without receiving fair warning about the new times. He also asked if the rules would only apply to private as well as public schools.

Councilman Kent Denapolis said he wanted to be certain drivers weren’t forced to figure out the new rules every day. “I just don’t want the driving public to be burdened by having to guess what those times are,” Denapolis said.

Defrancesch said Kenner officials will work with each school individually to determine what changes need to be made to school zone signs. Because some schools let out much earlier than others, there needs to be flexibility in how the city’s ordinance is written. However, she said school zones will not last for two hours.

In addition, because Kenner makes its street signs in-house, the city will begin posting the new guidelines immediately after working them out with schools, and tickets will not be issued until those signs are up. The time change will also mean that certain streets that become one-way streets during the beginning and ending of the school day will have to have their guidelines tweaked.

Defrancesch said the ordinance was an attempt to get Kenner out in front of a public safety issue, and she noted that the city may be the first local area to change its school zone times because of the extended day.

There are about 10 different schools in Kenner spread throughout the city, according to the school system’s website. Those facilities are A.C. Alexander Elementary School on West Esplanade; John James Audubon Elementary School on West Loyola; Alfred Bonnabel Magnet High School on Bruin Drive; Chateau Estates Elementary School on Medoc Drive; John Clancy/Joseph Maggiore Sr. Elementary School on Maine Avenue; Greenlawn Terrance Elementary School on 38th Street; Granville T. Woods Elementary School on 31st Street; Theodore Roosevelt Middle School on Maine Avenue; Walter Schneckburger Elementary School on Earnest Street; and Washington Montessori on Clay Street.

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