For the first time in 17 months students will be returning to school full time and with their highly anticipated presence will come a much less welcome phenomenon: pick-up and drop-off traffic across the city.

The Santa Monica Police Department predicts these car build ups will look very similar to patterns experienced pre-pandemic, with congestion clustered around all schools and particularly around large campuses such as Samohi in Downtown. This will be felt most acutely in the morning between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and to a lesser extent around 3 p.m.

Drivers who have grown used to quieter streets and faster speeds during the pandemic are urged to drive with care in the mornings and be aware that many small children will be crossing the streets.

There will be 21 crossing guards stationed across the city to increase safety during pick-up and drop-off hours. Police and Traffic Service Officers will also regularly patrol all schools within Santa Monica.

“We would remind parents and guardians, especially those that are driving their students to school, to plan ahead and arrive to school early to ensure they have ample time to drop off and if necessary find legal parking,” said SMPD Public Information Officer Rudy Flores. “Please ensure you obey all traffic signs, watch your speed, and obey the posted parking signs.”

Flores also urged parents to avoid parking illegally or increasing speed if they are running late and to make eye contact with children crossing the street.

There is a strong push from both the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the City to increase the number of students who walk, bike, or skate to school.

Students are encouraged to form “walking school bus” groups as well as “pedalpods” to travel to school safely. For families who live too far to walk or bike to school, the District encourages them to take the “3-block challenge” by parking several blocks from school and walking the rest of the way. This both helps reduce congestion around campus and get kids active and ready for school.

While students were offered the opportunity to return to campus after spring break last semester, many opted to remain home and enrolled in distance learning.

Per AB 130, all schools are required to offer a remote independent learning program for families who have health concerns with their children returning to school this fall. Although some parents remain concerned about safety on campus, almost all opted to send their children full-time in person.

Across both Santa Monica and Malibu public schools, only 200 students out of the over 10,600 in the District submitted the form to enroll in Independent Study.

“We are thrilled to fully reopen and to welcome all our students back to campus!” said McKinley Elementary Principal Ashley Benjamin. “Teachers are looking forward to bringing students to sit on the rug together, having students work in groups at tables, and to walk around the room and more closely interact with students.”

At Santa Monica High School, which has a population of almost 3,000 students, Principal Antonio Shelton said the full return to campus “means everything.”

“Seeing my students on campus and knowing that they will have a high school experience is exciting,” said Shelton. “They have missed so much this past year, and for them to have the opportunity to walk around campus creating memories is so important to their mental, social and emotional well-being.”