I’m just shaking my head in wonder about this article I read on the Newsday web site. In a nutshell, Broward County, Florida, is taking several steps to cut down on playground injuries at elementary schools and the lawsuits brought on by those injuries. That includes banning running.
Any thoughts? Anybody in Florida having to deal with this?
Article Link: Newsday | Long Island's & NYC's News Source - Newsday)
In the pursuit of safety, teeter-totters and swings are disappearing from playgrounds
By Chris Kahn
July 18, 2005
Andrea Levin is grateful that Broward County schools care about her daughter’s safety. But this year when they posted a sign that demanded “no running” on the playground, it seemed like overkill.
“I realize we want to keep kids from cracking their heads open,” said Levin, whose daughter is a Gator Run Elementary fifth grader in Weston. “But there has to be a place where they can get out and run.”
Broward’s “Rules of the Playground” signs, bought from an equipment catalogue and displayed at all 137 elementary schools in the district, are just one of several steps taken to cut down on injuries and the lawsuits they inspire.
“It’s too tight around the equipment to be running,” said Safety Director Jerry Graziose, the Broward County official who ordered the signs. “Our job was to try to control it.”
How about swings or those hand-pulled merry-go-rounds?
“Nope. They’ve got moving parts. Moving parts on equipment is the number one cause of injury on the playgrounds.”
“Nope. That’s moving too.”
“Well, I have to be careful about animals” turning them into litter boxes.
Cement crawl tubes?
“Vagrants. The longer they are, the higher possibility that a vagrant could stay in them. We have shorter ones now that are made out of plastic or fiberglass.”
Broward playgrounds aren’t the only ones to avoid equipment that most adults remember. Swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters and other old standards are vanishing from schools and parks around the country, according to the National Program for Playground Safety.
“Kids aren’t using them the way they’re supposed to,” said the agency’s director, Donna Thompson, who led a national effort to get rid of animal swings two years ago. “I’m pleased that a lot of these are disappearing.”
In Miami-Dade County, public schools don’t use a lot of traditional equipment, including swings and sandboxes. In Palm Beach County, some schools have swings, but they’re no longer included on newer campuses because there’s not enough space.
In their place, a lot of playgrounds now are inhabited with clusters of bright, multi-use contraptions with names like “Ed Center” and “Platform Climber Composite Structure.” They’re lower to the ground than their predecessors, coated with plastic and engineered for safety.
“We could do a lot more if we didn’t have to watch our back every single second,” said Graziose, who has led a playground safety committee for 17 years. “We sometimes get a letter from the attorney before we even get an accident report from the school.”
Since 1999, Broward County schools paid out about $561,000 to settle 189 claims for playground accidents, about 5 percent of the amount the district spent on all injury claims in that time. To keep those numbers low, Graziose said, he needs to keep thinking of ways to make playgrounds safe.
Broward County School Board member Robin Bartleman understands the pressure Graziose is under, even though the playground at Everglades Elementary in Weston makes her 6-year-old daughter’s face droop into a formidable pout.
“To say `no running’ on the playground seems crazy,” said Bartleman, who agreed to be interviewed on a recent outing at Everglades. “But your feelings change when you’re in a closed-door meeting with lawyers.”
She scanned the tall metal sign while her daughters, Emma and Sarah, wandered with two other young girls through a sparse play area that’s reserved for the youngest grades in school.
It warns 5- and 6-year-olds to “not use equipment in this playground without adult supervision” and “do not use equipment unless designed for your age group.”
A third of the way down the sign, a stick-figure is pictured running with a red slash through the middle, followed by: “No running, pushing or shoving.”
“I don’t know if that would mean much to a 6-year-old,” Bartleman said of the signs. “How does a child know what’s appropriate for their age group?”
The girls tried out the horizontal ladder and balance beam for a few minutes before settling on a game of stacking plate-size dirt chunks into a neat pile.
“Making sand,” explained Kristin Gonzalez, 6, as she crushed one in her hands and sprinkled the bits over the pile.
Bartleman, the only board member with children in elementary school, created a subcommittee this year to suggest ways to redesign school playgrounds. Safety is important, she said, but there’s got to be a way to make Broward’s playgrounds more interesting than dirt.
“I would have never thought about this until my daughter came up to me one day and said `Momma, I hate going to that playground,'” she said.
American playgrounds have evolved ever since they started to appear in the mid-19th century. The first ones followed German models. They were called outdoor “gymnasia” and filled with overhead rings, pommel horses and other gymnastic equipment.
Manufacturers later added steel seesaws, slides and swings. They built sandboxes at the turn of the 20th century. After World War II, the European style “adventure” playgrounds became popular in some corners of the country, encouraging children to play with tools, build things and cook over a fire.
The newest playgrounds are usually filled with equipment engineered in accordance with U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. They might expose schools and parks to fewer lawsuits, but they’re not as challenging as the previous generations of playgrounds, said Joe Frost, an emeritus professor at the University of Texas who runs its Play and Playgrounds Research Project.
“Play is one of children’s chief vehicles for development,” Frost said. “Right now it looks like we’re developing a nation of wimps.”
Bartleman’s committee is expected to address the board in August. She said it’ll bring plans for a new playground designed not just to keep kids safe, but to dazzle them as well.
Chris Kahn can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4550
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.