District strives to improve playground safety

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. – September 24, 2015 - Message from Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano:

There have been recent media reports about banning the game of tag at our elementary schools following a Principal Advisory Meeting at Lakeridge last week. There is not a ban on tag. Our principal was communicating a new message about a 'hands off' expectation at recess. The new expectation was made with the best of intentions. We wanted the school year to begin with an explicit promotion about a more positive playground experience by asking students to keep their hands and feet to themselves at all times, including recess, unless of course directed by an adult to do so.

Our elementary principals, other administrators and I came up with the 'hands off' idea to help minimize negative physical interactions among elementary children during recess or unstructured play. Our typical channel for sending and receiving communication was missing, and a social media campaign emerged. We have heard a strong message from many of you that you want to be consulted when changes in student behavior and new expectations are made.

To help with perspective, last spring we had isolated incidents of unfortunate interactions that occurred on the playground where students were injured, and some stemmed from games involving student contact with each other. Sometimes games during supervised, unstructured play deteriorated into name-calling, fighting and injury. Our hope has always been and continues to be an expectation that students respect others' personal space and respect their individual and unique differences. We know students will make mistakes, and we want to be present for all of those teachable moments.

We plan to support our elementary students with new games and alternatives that still involve running and exercising. We want to initiate a new form of tag-like running games to minimize the issues of "you were tagged / no I wasn't" or "the tag was too hard and felt more like a hit." Tag is not banned.

Students and our teachers will be consulted in the design of these new games. Principals will share these ideas with their parent advisory groups. School supervision on our playgrounds has increased and not lessened. It is my expectation that we all begin with the premise that we are all well intentioned and have your children's best interests in mind at all times.

You are our partners in the education of your children. We know that in order for students to be their best in the classroom, they need to feel safe and secure within the school environment. Our number one priority from the moment students step on the bus or enter the school to the moment they leave or are dropped off is safety. We strive daily to create a safe learning environment so your children can thrive, learn and grow. Thank you for being our partners in the education of your child.

Contact: Mary Grady
Phone: 206-230-6227