School parents say they are being parking ticket-targeted

Parents of children at the St. Paul’s Nursery School in North Cleveland Park say they are receiving parking tickets while dropping their children off at school. (photo courtesy of Tim1965)

For Christine Bonanno and other parents of children at St. Paul’s Nursery School in North Cleveland Park, getting their youngsters safely to school has gotten a lot more complicated – and expensive – in recent months.

One morning last week Bonanno parked in front of the school, located on Ellicott Street NW between Reno Road and 36th Street. She took her two- and four-year-olds inside and came out to find a $25 parking ticket on her windshield.

“I’m paying a tax for dropping off my child at school,” Bonnano said.

The enforcement of parking regulations sometimes appears arbitrary and capricious to ordinary residents of the District. The spate of tickets written to school parents on Ellicott Street appears to be a case in point.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, at 4900 Connecticut Ave., contributes financially to the support of the nursery school. The nursery school is located at the church. Two sets of signs regulate parking on the stretch of Ellicott Street where the entrance to the nursery school is located.

One reads: “Tow away, no parking 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., school days”

The second says: “15 minutes parking, school parking zone, 8-9 a.m., 3-4 p.m., school days.”

A third sign next to the other two regulates parking in the area not adjacent to the church, which some drivers say adds to the confusion.

Murch Elementary, a D.C. public school, is located across the street on the south side of Ellicott. And Auguste Montessori School shares space in the educational building of St. Paul’s Church with the nursery school.

A new facility is under construction at Murch, so workers are driving to the neighborhood to get to work. They need a place to park. 

School starts earlier at Murch and the Montessori school so parents of children in those institutions can drop their youngsters off in the 15-minute window allowed by the parking signs. But the nursery school starts after nine, and the children are younger – too young, in many cases, to be let out of the car at the street to find their own way inside. Parents typically walk their children into the nursery school. 

That, according to some parents and local officials, is when parking enforcement officers go into action.

This parking perfect storm was discussed at a special meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F (Forest Hills, North Cleveland Park, Van Ness) on Feb. 5.

Bill Sittig represents the single member district where the schools are located. He said no one is quite sure how long the parking signs in front of the nursery school have been up, but the current zeal for ticket writing on Ellicott Street began late last year.

“Parking enforcement [personnel] are very assiduous in waiting to pounce,” Sittig said.

In an interview later, Sittig described the technique.

“[The parking officers] pull up about a quarter to nine,” he said. “As soon as a parent pulls up and takes a child into the school, they get a ticket.”

Sittig considers it reasonable that parents should park their cars in front of the building for the short time it takes to deliver children safely to school.

“They want to park near the entrance, not two blocks away,” Sittig said.

A representative of the D.C. government present at the meeting said city officials cannot tell parking officers to lay off enforcing parking rules.

A resident who attended the meeting found the argument unconvincing.

“They say they can’t selectively ticket, but in point of fact they do selectively ticket, because they come every day at nine,” the resident said.

Kate Johnson, the director of the nursery school at St. Paul’s, said she suspects school parents have felt the brunt of an enforcement action with another target.

“I think somebody [in the neighborhood] complained about the construction workers at Murch,” Johnson said. “Our families maybe got caught up in this.”

Johnson contacted city officials about the new enforcement of the parking signs to ask for relief. They told her a request to change the signs must come from the local ANC.

At the Feb. 5 meeting, Sittig introduced a resolution for that purpose.

According to the resolution, “It is of great importance for the safety of the children attending St. Paul’s Nursery School that the parents be allowed legally to park their vehicles next to the school for up to 15 minutes to accompany their children safely into the school at the beginning of the school day and to pick up their children at the end of the school day.”

The resolution further asks “the District Department of Transportation remove the ‘tow away, no parking’  sign and change the hours of the ‘15 minutes parking’ sign to ‘8 a.m. to 6 p.m., school days.’”

The commission voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

Bonnano thinks the new regulations fit into the obvious intent of the parking regulations on the existing signs.

“My intent is to come and go really fast. It makes more sense to be able to park in a 15-minute space intended for school drop-off.”

Johnson hopes the ANC’s resolution will work.

“We’re hoping this will be worked out, and we appreciate the ANC’s efforts in working it out,” she said.

Sittig said in an email on Saturday that the old signs and the old parking restrictions remain in place.