Dangerous Playground Structure Suddenly Not Dangerous

Hey Readers — You may recall this post from two weeks ago about playground equipment purchased by a Fairfax, VA, PTA from a reputable manufacturer that was installed at a local grammar school over the summer and then suddenly declared “unsafe.” Since Nov. 30 it had been wrapped up in tape of every sort — yellow crime tape and red metaphorical tape — even though the very same piece of equipment can be found in over 1,000 other playgrounds nationally, and it meets all national and even some international safety standards.

Well praise the lord and jump over the monkey bars, because the intrepid  T. Rees Shapiro of The Washington Post reports the district has now changed its (freakin’) mind:

A dispute over a Fairfax County elementary school playground structure has been resolved after a school district official announced Wednesday that the equipment would no longer be off-limits to students.

The decision by Jeffrey Platenberg, assistant superintendent for facilities, means students at Stratford Landing Elementary School soon will be able to use the apparatus during recess. Platenberg’s decisionreversed an administration ruling requiring the removal of the $35,000 structure that had been purchased with funds raised by the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Hooray and let the fun begin…once a slight modification is made to one part of the structure — the razor wire climbing bar at the top. (Nahhh. Actually, some spinning thing up there.)

I can’t help but think that the outcry created by The Washington Post and echoed throughout the blogosphere had something to do with the reversal. At least, I like to think that. Because I sure love aiding and abetting common sense. – L.

Come hither, kids!

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21 Responses to Dangerous Playground Structure Suddenly Not Dangerous

  1. Tim February 15, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    School administration officials don’t typically change their minds on *anything* unless there’s a big PR stink about how dumb they are (and usually not even then), so feel free to take some credit on this. :-)

  2. Earth.W February 15, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    You mean they didn’t wrap it up with bubble wrap and lay the ground with springy foam flooring stuff?

  3. Emily February 15, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I’m interested to know what “spinning thing at the top” has to be modified. Other than that…….this sounds like a win. :)

  4. Kristi February 15, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    Guess I shouldn’t let my kids climb trees if this type of playscape was ever in question….no one bothered to certify the neighborhood trees as safe! ;)

  5. SKL February 15, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Yeah! I’m glad somebody pulled his/her head out of his/her butt.

  6. SKL February 15, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Totally off topic, but I just went on facebook to wish my nephew a happy birthday. He’s a high school student in one of those “zero tolerance” public school systems (which is full of crime regardless, but whatever.)

    That’s when I remembered that his facebook profile photo has him aiming a gun (shotgun or rifle, I’m not sure) while target shooting. Oh my. Do you think he’ll get expelled if the teachers see this?

  7. Warren February 15, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    One small step for man. One giant leap for childkind.

    Just don’t leap off the top, or they will shut it down again.

  8. Niki February 15, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    How sad that they even have to have a piece of fixed kit in a school playground! Extreme lack of imagination there. How about encouraging children to be more creative?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqi1KyJJeKg

  9. Tomas February 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    School district officials aren’t dumb. They have one-sided incentives and yes, they are notoriously stubborn about their preconceptions.

    Common sense isn’t measurable, litigation dollars are. Even education outcomes are notoriously hard to measure, especially those that really matter.

    Which are you going to optimize for, your job rating or other people’s kids?

  10. Warren February 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

    @Tomas,

    But as an educator isn’t you job rating directly linked to other people’s kids?

    And I agree they are not dumb. They are no different than a member of parliament, a congressman or a senator. They are feeding at the public trough and the only real work they do is finding effective ways to cover their ass, and instituting tests, so they can gather data, to justify their pay.

    School boards have lost sight of who they work for. They act as though they work for lawyers, insurance companies, and test scores to increase their funding. They stopped working for the parents a long time ago. And that has to change.

  11. Donna February 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    @ Warren – The problem is that many, many, many of the parents agree with the school board on safety issues. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t need this blog and Lenore’s work. Now maybe if school boards remembered that they don’t work for the parents, but instead work for the CHILDREN, we’d be better off.

  12. Emily February 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    @Warren–you just took the words out of my mouth (fingers?) That’s exactly why I didn’t become a teacher after attending teacher’s college in Australia. I knew instinctively what kind of teacher I wanted to be, from my first day of Practicum, but it seemed like that didn’t fit in with what “the system” wanted. So, even though I thought I was doing right by the students by being a compassionate, positive person who listened to the students’ concerns, and tried to help the ones who wanted to learn, and I thought I was doing the right thing by preparing creative and well-thought-out lesson plans (for example, using Schubert’s “Erlkonig” to teach the concept of triplet rhythms), the powers-that-be wanted me to be authoritarian (for better “classroom management”), and they wanted me to teach using ONLY rote learning methods (rhythm dictations, etc.), and vulgar pop music, because anything else was either “irrelevant” or “too advanced.” So, needless to say, I didn’t last long in Education. A lot of the students honestly liked me, but the Education faculty at my university made it pretty clear (in as many words) that it wasn’t really about them.

  13. mollie February 15, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Niki: THAT IS AWESOME.

    Thank you for giving me a lift today.

  14. Emily February 15, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Good point, Donna. It seems that a lot of parents easily buy in to the hype from the media/society in general/wherever it’s coming from, about the world being “more dangerous than ever,” and the only way to protect your kids from that is to lock them inside, unless they’re being supervised by a team of fully vetted and background-checked adults, and purchase all manner of colourful plastic “safety” paraphernalia from One Step Ahead. Usually, it’s the kids who want to continue climbing/swinging/sliding/cartwheeling/whatever, and the school allows it until someone’s kid gets hurt, and then the parents raise holy hell until the school tightens up the rules to the point where anything fun gets sacrificed on the Almighty Altar of Safety. That’s why we have Lenore, to make people see sense again, and give kids their childhoods back

  15. Warren February 15, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Yes they still work for the parents, but within the ranks of the parents you have very different visions, and ideals.

    1. Helicopter parents that will raise bloody hell over a skinned knee, or bruised elbow. They scream and threaten until the school gives in, for one of two reasons. Either to shut the screamers up, or out of fear of lawsuit. Changing the rules and procedures for a school board is the equivilant of settling out of court, because it is cheaper than going to court.
    2. The largest group of parents. The group that really doesn’t care what the school does or doesn’t do. They won’t get involved, or say anything.
    3. The parents that do not want our kids restricted, ruled and procedured into little drones, while at school. We raise our concerns, we fight with the schools, and it falls on deaf ears. Because inaction is just not acceptable. We are looked at as people that are insane, because we are not traumatically affected by our kid needing a couple of stitches.

    Like I said before, it is easier to get funding to change things, than it is to say no we are fine just the way we are.

  16. peter baker February 16, 2013 at 2:40 am #

    If I had to guess what happened here based on personal experience.

    After every playground is constructed, a mandatory Health and Safety inspection is conducted….usually by someone who has been sent on a one day course. The inspection is done without any knowledge of safety standards for playgrounds, but with the dire warnings from the course of being sued for millions. There is of course only one possible outcome, ban it now. No-one in the organisation can refute his findings because thy are not trained or responsible until it all blows up in their face.

  17. lollipoplover February 16, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    What happens when we ban *dangerous* equipment is the risk transfers to other activities that kids will play at recess. No one can ever eliminate recess accidents. They will still have accidents, just not on this equipment.

    My school has been limited to blacktop for some time due to muddy conditions. I’ve heard of more kids getting hurt by running into each other, breaking noses, etc. I got a call from the nurse this week to come to school because of a recess injury. The nurse/school have such red tape over basic injuries like cuts and scrapes that they are now conditioned to overreact, calling parents to come in for minor, send them back to class with an ice pack injuries.

    Sometimes a cut is just a cut and a bump is just a bump. We’re treating our kids like fine china- if they get a small chip they are ruined…

  18. Warren February 16, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    @lolli
    Calling the parents over the littlest things all comes back to the loudmouth overprotective parents. I have seen it, heard it and witnessed it first hand.
    Someone’s little darling gets a band aid on their knee and mom looses it. “Why wasn’t I called? Who are you to determine what my child needs? I am to be called for any incident? Oh my god, what about scarring?” and so on.

    I have heard overprotective Mom’s, and sorry when it comes to injuries, moms are the worst. I have heard them tell ambulance attendants, paramedics, and firefighters who volunteer to do first aid at events, that this is not their child and that they have no idea what they are talking about.

  19. Caleb February 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    I Just discovered this website, and it will definately be a site I visit. I run a Childcare based on outside activity, and run into many of the frets about safety which this site describes. I feel like I have found a like-minded group.

    I was just venting on my own obscure site about how “dangerous” snow is, and wrote something I called “OSHA Snow” which you might find amusing.
    http://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/osha-snow/

    Now I have to go read your post “Do kids play less outside at winter…” because my kids, at my Childcare, play outside a lot.

  20. Richard March 8, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    Love your site;thanks so much for the usefull advice

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  1. “Fairfax County schools place new playground apparatus off limits to kids” - Overlawyered - February 15, 2013

    […] Update: District changes mind. […]