During the football game on Super Bowl Sunday, a local TV station that covers Benton and Washington counties, KNWA, promoted what the station implied would be a big investigative hit piece about traffic outside the Haas Hall Academy campus in Fayetteville.
The story was a dud. There was no revelation of any problem to speak of. It was a classic example of a news outlet inflating a minor complaint from an anonymous source.
A little bit of real investigation would have revealed that the majority of the information in the story was blatantly false.
In italics below are direct statements from the “news” story. Beneath the italicized sentences are our presentation of the facts.
“Charter schools are popping up everywhere, even in spots that weren’t designed for school property.”
Haas Hall Academy Fayetteville occupies the old Colony Shop, a clothing store that closed many years ago and remained vacant until it was purchased for use as a school. While, yes, the property wasn’t initially meant to be a school, it was retrofitted to be a school and was approved by the Charter Authorizing Panel and the Arkansas State Board of Education. The school’s previous location was located on Highway 71B with a reported traffic flow of more than 30,000 vehicles a day. The school’s current location is on a side road, not a main highway, with very little traffic flow throughout the day. Along the strip of Front Street where Haas Hall is currently located, you’ll also find a preschool and a building for the University of Arkansas, both of which were there well before Haas Hall. KNWA doesn’t seem to have a problem with them.
“Parents reached out to us (KNWA) about being concerned about driver and student safety around the school. They didn’t want to go on camera because of the backlash that this story could bring.”
Haas Hall Academy begins every school year by explaining parking and traffic flow procedures to parents and scholars. In addition, detailed drop-off/pick-up maps are distributed to parents and scholars. The school’s founder and superintendent, Dr. Martin Schoppmeyer Jr., has demonstrated in the past that he is more than willing to accommodate any measure that can help ensure the safety of parents and scholars. If parents have a problem, they know full well that they can air their grievances to the school’s leaders, that their concerns will be taken seriously, and that something will be done about them. The parental involvement at Haas Hall is extraordinary. That open communication between parents and school administrators is one of the school’s hallmarks.
“It’s a (traffic) battle anytime school lets out.”
Is there some traffic? Sure, it’s like that at every school. Every school across Northwest Arkansas and beyond has a lot of traffic when school lets out. Traffic at Haas Hall is just a part of letting 300-plus scholars out to go home. That’s to be expected. Other schools with thousands of students let them out onto major thoroughfares. Haas Hall empties out onto a relatively unused side street that allows for traffic to filter safely onto Joyce and College, with signage in place. As a matter of fact, there have been no accidents reported at Haas Hall, but from Jan. 1, 2015, to Feb. 26, 2017, there have been 39 accidents reported near other Fayetteville schools, many involving pedestrians.
“There needs to be a stoplight there or something.”
The geography of Front Street makes it difficult to have a stoplight, and it’s likely that the inclusion of a stoplight would only make things more difficult. As long as people follow basic traffic safety laws, there hasn’t been and won’t be a problem in the parking lot.
“KNWA strapped a GoPro (onto) an unmarked vehicle and drove through traffic several times.”
If you’ve watched the newscast, you’d notice that their unmarked, GoPro-equipped car drives on the wrong side of the road to get a closer look at the supposed traffic issues at Haas Hall. In fact, the only person presenting a danger to parents or scholars is the journalist herself. Worse, the station drove an unmarked car and recorded video of minors at school without their or the school’s permission. Finally, by driving back and forth through traffic several times, the station became a huge part of the problem that day.
“In just the short time we were there, we had a few close calls.”
The station never backed up the claim that it had “a few” close calls. The closest call they recorded in their “investigation” was stopping to let someone out of the parking lot.
“Haas Hall doesn’t offer transportation, which means more students are walking home from school.”
Haas Hall does offer limited transportation in the form of a van service that drives scholars home who live far enough away to be an inconvenience or an impossibility for parents. Transportation for a small school is expensive. Budgets for schools are easily available on the Web, and, if you do the math, you’ll find that a similarly sized school as Haas Hall with a full bus system will cost taxpayers in the ballpark of $600,000. A bus system would be an unnecessary burden that would take away from the teaching quality that makes Haas Hall the No. 1-ranked public high school in the state. Very few, if any, students walk home. The video that accompanied this “news” segment showed kids walking down the sidewalk. That recording conveniently stopped right as those students took a left to go into the adjacent parking lot, got in their cars, and drove home. Even if students did walk home, walking home from school is very normal at other high schools and even elementary schools.
“It’s coupled with not enough parking or a designated pickup location.”
There are empty parking spaces at Haas Hall every day, and there is a designated pickup location.
“Haas Hall is in fact working with the mayor on better signage, but Fayetteville city engineer says he’s never heard from Haas Hall.”
The school is working with the city on signage. The mayor backed up that fact. Some additional signage is already up.