Outrage of the Week: School Cordons Off 3-Foot Hill

Hi Readers — Just got this note from David Robert Hogg, who blogs about traveling the world with kids at MyLittleNomads.com. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!  — L
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Dear Free- Range Kids: I live in Seattle. Home to hikers, snowboarders, world travelers. It seemed like everyone I know was giving their kids the freedom to explore pretty much how we did as kids. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough not to land us on the Outrage of the Week.
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Then I got our weekly email from my boys’ school. They are taping off a part of the playground because some kids had fallen, slipped, or tripped on it. Wrote the principal:
Dear Parents: After a few injuries caused by large groups of students running down the slope to line up after recess, I asked our custodial engineer to temporarily tape the area to keep students from running down the slope.
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 have been communicating with our district gardeners and machinists to discuss a better solution such as landscaping the sloped area to prevent students from unsafely running down into it … I am also meeting with the Playground Committee this week and will seek their input on the improvements for safety reasons.

This is a "dangerous" hill?!

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Dear Principal (I wrote back): I was very disappointed to see the yellow tape around the dirt slope on the playground and even more disappointed to read your reasoning for it. 
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I’m a firm believer in the value of play – real play. There are risks, of course, that are serious enough to require intervention. A dirt hill with a 3 foot slope is not one of them. 
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In the simplest terms, what happens when a child falls while running down this slope? They learn they need to be careful when running down the slope! Remove the challenge and the consequences and you remove the opportunity to learn. Let me ask two questions:
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Are we making our kids any safer?
Almost certainly not. While potentially anything could happen with any fall, the majority of upsets are likely minor scrapes and bruises – if that. But more important, there’s evidence that removing small risks from a playground only serves to encourage greater risk taking – and prevents no injuries in the aggregate.
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Are we making kids any smarter?
The message we’re sending when we try to protect our children from trivial dangers like this is that we don’t trust them, their intelligence, their ability to learn. To be safe in the real world requires the ability to tell serious risk from manageable risk. Teachers talk in the classroom of getting kids to think independently – and then the children walk outside to see tape marking off a slope that a 2 year old could safely run down.
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Kids are better off  when they learn to navigate the real world than when they are protected from every possible risk. A playground that more closely resembles the real world makes for safer, stronger, and smarter children in the long run.
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It’s difficult to write seriously about such a trivial matter but I fear if I don’t speak up now that this policy of a zero-risk schoolyard will only grow stronger and our kids will pay a steep price. Steeper, even, than a 3-foot hill. — David Hogg

89 Responses

  1. Extra points for “custodial engineer”.

  2. I hope if he got a response form the principal that we get a follow up post. I would love to hear what the school had to say in response.

  3. A response to let people know it’s not ALL like this, thankfully:

    A few years back I took some photographs of the American School In London – a US school system operating in London for the children of all the various expats there. The landscaping around the school took the exact opposite of this approach: hillsides and walls were covered with boulders, slopes, and climbing apparatus specifically for the kids to play on. There are some pictures here: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110118095356/http://www.cabe.org.uk/case-studies/american-school?photos=true

  4. Seems like the best thing would be to have teachers have the kids line up in a different spot. Problem solved, no money spent or time wasted.

  5. This kind of BS won’t stop until tort reforms are passed to prevent parents from suing the schools for every little bump, bruise and laceration suffered by their little darlings.

  6. An excellent letter!

  7. I’m glad Mr. Hogg wrote the principal back. Nothing can change if we don’t try. I, too, would be interested in hearing if the principal writes back.

  8. I’m with Chris! Hopefully we’ll get to see the follow up.

  9. What’s next? Raising our kids in bubbles? I thought kids were supposed to get dirty & hurt themselves tumbling down hills.

  10. Besides, that tape, and plants, unless really tall, have become incentive for kids to run and jump over without tripping. New fun toy!

  11. It’s sad that parents try to wrap their children in cotton wool.

  12. Installing a zip line down the dangerous hill directly to the playground would be my solution. That would keep them up and off of the hill for sure.

  13. Usually I agree with you Lenore, and I do think that playgrounds in general are being made too “safe”. Children should have swings, jungle gyms, zip lines, things to climb, etc. And they should have hills to run and roll down. But this particular hill is not for running down. It has a big concrete step at the bottom. If my kids were at this playground I would tell them not to go down that hill and use the steps instead.

  14. The first thing my two year old would do would be to see how far she could jump – either from the top or from the bottom. I’d stand there and say, “Go for it! Let’s see what you can do!” She’ll get dirty. She might even roll down the hill and scrape a knee. But that “big concrete step” wouldn’t stop her and I wouldn’t step in either. Kids need to learn what they can and can’t do and that hill is a perfect place to start.

  15. Last week, while visiting family in Alabama, we discovered the “COOLEST PLAYGROUND EVER”.

    It is the brainchild of The Rural Studio, which is a post graduate semester run by the School of Architecture at Auburn University. In addition to one of the best skate & bike parks I’ve ever seen (with nary a warning sign in sight), the project had created a huge playground made entirely of mounded dirt and thousands of galvanized 55 gallon drums. It had mazes, “telephone” pipes, slides, stairs, a huge jungle gym hidden in the middle, and joy of joys, SWINGS! Not just swings, but swings that were designed specifically to be jumped out of and roll down the embankments. My five children, ages 12 to 3, spent over 5 hours imagining, playing, rolling, climbing, falling and jumping on this wonderfully imaginative structure. I spent five hours reading, dozing in the sunshine and listening to the joyful racket of kids being kids.

    After 5 hours of roaming this wonderful, wacky space, that most would see as a “kiddie death trap”, all they required was a good scrubbing, a hearty meal and a sound nights sleep: no stitches, no broken bones, not even a band aid!

    This creative and enjoyable public space makes that little slope look positively risk free and could only have come from the imagination of students that had adventureous, rough and touble, dirty, joyous childhoods….or desperately wished they had!

  16. That tape looks about 10X more dangerous than the hill. Hello strangled and tripped up!

  17. Someone did a horrible taping job that looks straight out of the “redneck repairs” website. Ironically it looks like it would cause more injuries than it would prevent.

  18. I bet the hill started out neatly taped before the really intrepid kids circumnavigated it!

  19. Our son was playing on a new “safe” playground … and broke his arm. They needed to put him under to reset it. He is fine. We all laugh about it now. No, we did not sue the school!!! Let the kids have adventures … and sometimes get hurt.

  20. If I were a principal, I’d fear the lawyers. It’s not the hill; it’s the tripping over the curb on the way down and falling face first on the concrete. Then some lawyer parent sues the district for $20 million for a $2000 dental bill. I generally agree with the premise of this blog, however.

  21. How about removing the curbs, a major hazard if there is one at all. I loved to run and jump as a boy, and being in the city, our school playground was a temporarily blocked off city street. No grass, no soft stuff to fall on. All of the public playgrounds were asphalt or crushed rock. Fall on it once or twice learn to respect it. we got scraped but I broke no bones.

  22. Tort reform? Bullcarp. Parents don’t sue over every little bump – they sue because a teacher hands a child with a peanut allergy a peanut-laced product and the child goes to the hospital. They sue because their kid got assaulted and nobody seems to know what happened.

    Tort reform is NOT the problem here – the problem is the idea that kids can’t possibly be expected to behave. When the previously small schools got aggregated into larger ones in our district, and some old principals were retired, you should have heard the parental whining because the mean principal at the new school expected Johnny and Susy to behave or face consequences. That lack of expectation of ever gaining maturity is the problem.

  23. I’d say it’s the curb that’s at fault, I know I’d trip over it. Though as a grown-up I would also say that kids shouldn’t be running over the landscaping and should be told not to take that shortcut, but… it is a schoolground so what else would you expect?

  24. First, I’m betting that some of the parents whose kids were “injured” had a hissy and insisted the school was at fault and should “do something.” So this letter basically says “OK, OK, we’re doing something about it.”

    Second, I think what they should do is have the classes go out there and plant flowers or shrubs there, and then tell the kids that if they run over the hill, they will kill the stuff they planted.

    I agree with the person who said that the problem is the curb, and also, that kids don’t need to be trampling landscaping.

  25. Guess what the kids at our local Catholic school get to do on their hill (which is a little bit bigger than the one pictured, but without the curb at the bottom) in the winter? The headmaster lets them get trays from the cafeteria and snowboard during recess! He is the best!

  26. I am interested in the reply from the principle…
    Please post if one is recieved.

  27. Did the school ever think to inform/teach the kids how to traverse the hill safely after the first incident? For educators, they’re pretty dumb. You can’t teach kids how to avoid obstacles, if you take the obstacles out of the way. It’s like teaching a child how to read by removing books, and just reading to them. Geeez. That’s just basic common sense. Lazy, irresponsible, ignorant fools. Your teachers…TEACH! And I’m not talking about stupidity.

  28. ooohhh those stairs look dangerous too. Maybe they should have an elevator there instead. Now, where is it that our tax dollars are going? Why aren’t teachers paid enough?

  29. We just recently had a similar situation at my kids’ elementary school. Last week, a first grader fell and hit their head in the cafeteria. The extent of the injury in not clear, but all reports are that the injury may have included some blood, but no serious injury requiring serious medical intervention. The kid basically fell off his stool backwards and bumped his head.

    So this week, a whole new array of rules in the cafeteria have been established, including that kids who need a fork, spoon, straw, etc. are now not permitted to get up and get one, but instead they are to raise their hand and ask the lunchroom monitors to get it for them. Kids are also no longer permitted to use the restroom during lunchtime.

    I am sorry that a child bumped their head, but I do not see the sense in preventing kids from taking care of their own needs helps this. There is not always an institutional solution to every little problem. The kid fell not because someone got up and got a straw. The kid fell because he is a little kid who sat a little goofy on his stool and lost his balance.

    This is a perfect example of over-correcting for an unfortunate accident and in the meantime, creating worse problems for kids. I think 4th graders should not expect an adult to take care of all their needs. Talk about encouraging helplessness and entitlement! Now the school would prefer my kid miss classtime to use the toilet instead of lunchtime?

  30. LOL I think our front yard is steeper than that.

    Basically one parent probably threw a fit and so they figured it was easier to placate her and rope it off. That is my guess.

  31. @deacondog, I am not opposed to my kids getting dirty and scraping their knees. But this to me, looks like a break your permanent front tooth type of lesson, not a scrape your knee type of lesson. I would support the right of any parent to make that decision for their two year old, when they are supervising them. If you think your two year old should do it, then she should. At the same time, the school has to make these decisions for kids on a playground during recess, when they are in charge and we as parents ought to support them unless they are being terribly unreasonable.

    But are they being terribly unreasonable? Probably not. The principal said “after a few injuries”. This wasn’t a rule made to appease an insurance company, this was a rule made to solve a real problem. Were the “injuries” scrapes and bruises or were they broken bones and concussions. And how many exactly? To me, “a few” probably means three. Three concussions would be enough of a reason for me to implement a “No running down that hill” rule. So would three broken bones or teeth. If this is the case, I think the principal is absolutely correct, and it would be at least mildly neglectful not to do what he did. Three bad scrapes would not be a big deal, but also might be a good enough reason to tell the kids to cool it, and use the steps. I wouldn’t challenge the principals authority, even if it was just over 3 bad scrapes. If they were going to take down the swing set, that would be a different story. But school age kids can learn not to climb on certain things without being especially deprived.

  32. I am not a fan of frivolous lawsuits. But I am also not a fan of making it where you cannot sue and get your just desserts when you are horribly wronged either. I would not sue if my kid tripped on his own two feet on school grounds and broke his arm. That stuff happens. However I would totally sue like someone else said if the teacher screwed up and gave my peanut allergic kid peanuts when I would have made it very clear to the teacher ahead of time how to handle his allergy. Damn straight I would sue and I have every right to! I would want medical bills covered and some good pain and suffering money for my son as well as money to either homeschool him since I would no longer trust that teacher or money for private school or something. The point is, sometimes people have every right to sue. Unfortunately it is the ones who sue for stupid reasons that ruin it for everyone else.

  33. Hmmmm, maybe remove the obstacles and plant some grass in that dirt? Oh wait, its Seattle, where children are taught and encouraged to walk in the path of any moving vehicle because they have the right of way and obviously their 50 lb body is invincible to that 5000 lb truck, and mom was too busy with the cell phone glued to her ear, kids, how was she supposed to know that her kid was being ran over by a vehicle, she was too busy talking new hair colors with Babs.
    But back to the playground, Kids need a place to play and learn and just have fun and be kids, not 500 rules of “you can’t because this might…….” We have a playground in the middle of a small development around the corner from our house. When I go outside, i often here children out playing, but seldom do you never see a kid in the front yard, or, at the playground. But, go to the grocery store, and see 120 lb 8 yo’s waddling down the isles with their Nintendo in hand screaming at mom for more sugar.Or, in the case of Seattle, sitting in their strollers, yes 8 year old in strollers, and yes I think the same as you are thinking now.

  34. The fact that the injuries are specifically taking place in the line-up to go back in after recess suggests to me that the issue might be the disruption itself. (C’mon, in elementary school, when someone had to be taken to the nurse, wasn’t that a welcome break in the routine of the day?) In the principal’s place, I might have written that they were having trouble with kids running down the slope to get in line, falling, and having to be taken to the nurse, thus disrupting the school day, so they are roping it off and thinking of ways to keep kids off the slope — because clearly the slope as it stands is an irresistible temptation.
    Of course the kids (and some parents) would have been just as mad, I imagine.

  35. I am willing to bet the accidents were caused, not by the hill, but by the curbing they have added at the top and bottom. It looks like the curbing at the top is there to retain the surfacing material (shredded wood, shredded rubber?). Guess the bottom one holds the dirt on the hill in place.

    I agree that the kids should be allowed a few bumps and scrapes, but the principal is probably covering her you-know-what by sending out the letter. Kids need to run and get hurt once in awhile. If they learn from the little hurts, they will be more careful when the bigger dangers come along. If they never experience consequences to their actions, they will make bigger, more costly mistakes when they are older.

  36. How about instead of taping it off, we tell the children to use the stairs and provide consequences if they don’t? It is obvious that that hill was not designed for running up or down, hence the stairs right next to it. I’m amazed at this culture that feels that (a) kids should be able to do anything they want and (b) everything needs to be made safe for children – even things that they shouldn’t be doing in the first place. I’m all for kids getting dirty and running down hills, but boundaries are acceptable. I’m not opposed to children being injured doing things that they aren’t supposed to be doing anyway.

  37. I like the response to the letter. It doesn’t look like that big a hill or curb to me, and there are much more attractive ways to block it off or at least get the kids to slow down on it. Kids at our school go down a much bigger hill (without a curb at the end, just a sidewalk by the parking lot), every day. It’s mostly covered in bushes, but gets walked on so much that there are several easy paths through. Kids slip on it here and there, but it’s all minor stuff.

    That said, there’s a bigger slope at the back of the play fields that the kids aren’t supposed to go on at all during recess or lunch. I’ve always thought that rule was a little silly, but this school has always been on the restrictive side in my opinion.

  38. What an amazingly eloquent letter. I want to keep it on file for anytime I witness such a ridiculous outrage (which I’m hoping I never will). Hope it knocks some sense into the powers that be!

  39. When I was 11, at Woodmoor Elementary School in Bothell, Wa; at an afterschool program run by the YMCA called Y-Care the group took us to the big kid’s playground. It had been raining and I decided that I was going on the monkey bars. I had a thing for jumping to the third bar and had grown fairly adept at it. This time, with the slickness of the metal from the rain, I fell off and fell backwards. The fall caused me to break my left wrist. I only broke one bone, but the doctors had been worried it was at least two because of the way the break presented itself (my wrist was up at my elbow). Anyways, what came of this incidence? Pretty much nothing. Y-Care still took kids to that playground, the school did not remove the offending play equipment, and my parents didn’t sue. Why? Because I was a kid. Kids get hurt. They also mend fairly quickly. Now, in my case my broken bone was also helped by the fact that I had health problems before and my body hadn’t absorbed enough calcium, so my bones were more brittle than others my age. Did my parents molly-coddle me? No! I’m 29 years old expecting my first child and now I’m nervous about raising her in a too-safe environment.

  40. I can always tell who has NOT read Lenore’s book, Free Range Kids.

  41. I am with Donna on this one. To me it also looks like you are really not supposed to be walking on that anyway. You normally don’t walk on landscaping. So how about telling the kids to use the stairs and stay off the landscaping and punishing if they don’t listen?

  42. Really Viewpoint?! than enlighten us please? Were you referring to specific people on this site or in your life or just in general?

  43. To the caption under the picture, “This is a dangerous hill?!” I want to add “This is a landscaped hill?!” Maybe at one time.

  44. My kid’s elementary school calls in classes by teacher, so there is no mad dash to the door. Honestly, before calling out the hill as the problem, maybe other solutions should be explored.

    The area is just poorly landscaped and reminds me of a few chain store parking lots near us. Of course you’re not supposed to walk through the lanscape island, but the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Ask any little kid!

    On an oft topic, it’s an ideal slope to grow cucumbers, zucchini, and squash. Maybe if you planted a garden (with stepping stones between plant rows) the kids could walk through it carefully. But police-like tape on a playground hill? All it’s missing is a body outline inside of the tape…

  45. Well I will say this–at our school 0.7 miles away, there is a hill far more steep & high than this, it’s PAVED, and I’ve had my TWO YEAR OLD run up & down the hill with me as well as our 4 year old daughter who goes to pre-K there.

    And yes, there are “proper stairs” right next to it, and we do it anyway. Granted, on a given typical day, she will take the stairs, but there have been OCCASIONS where we went down the hill, going “weee!” and enjoying ourselves.

    Hills are fun. Yes, the stairs are there for a reason, but the hill is funner frankly, and why should it be a big deal if someone wants to take the hill instead, especially if there are no “keep off the grass” signs related to landscaping and the hill is basically “just there?”

    Man, some people are so ridiculous.

    LRH

  46. Larry, because the school has a right to say “we don’t want kids on the landscaping.” There doesn’t need to be a sign. A simple rule that is enforced should be sufficient. Kids don’t need access to everything.

  47. Hi. I’m the author of the post (and letter) above.

    I know it’s hard to tell from the picture but this is not a landscaped part of the playground but is instead an extension of a dirt area that is open to free play (without any dispute).

    You could argue that this patch “should be” a landscaped area, sure.

    BUT, that is not the principal’s motivation for the change.

    She is not arguing that we need to landscape this area, plant some flowers, or have a little garden – for the sake of having a nicer playground. She is saying that the kids are unsafe running down this little slope and that we should, we must – for their safety – do something (bushes, trees, yellow tape) to close this area off lest anyone trip again.

    So, though I understand why some people are arguing that the kids should be taught to stay off this area – out of respect, out of propriety – that is not really relevant as the principal was not arguing that the kids shouldn’t be in this area. Only that the area caused a safety hazard and we best do something about it.

    Cheers.

  48. I agree with the idea of real play and my children do all sorts of things that some would deem “dangerous.” However, I also take care of other people’s children and I live in America where people sue you for their child coming home with grass stains on their pants!! I worked in day care for 7 years prior and had more parent complaints about mulch in shoes and lost hair bows and carpet burns (from rolling races in the indoor playground) than I ever had inquiries about what kind of real fun their children were having. Parents are to blame, not schools. Schools are protecting themselves from over protective, sue-happy parents. It’s really sad and makes me want to home school. Not to protect my children, but to free them!!!

  49. Crista unfortunately does speak the truth. I worked in a daycare and some of those yuppy parents would get very pissy about the name brand expensive clothes they sent their kids to daycare in getting dirty. It is like
    Hello idiots ever heard of play clothes?! Garanimals at Walmart cost 3 bucks a piece. Send your kid to play in those and save the fancy outfits for church and special outings.”

  50. Donna I don’t disagree with you, somewhat anyway, except that (a) that was NOT the reason for what the school did. If they do put landscaping up, it seems from what the posting said that it would be only be so they have a ready-made excuse (besides being ridiculously overprotective and assuming a CYA modus de operandi) as to why kids in that area isn’t allowed.

  51. I agree with Donna and Crista.

    Children CAN be taught what the boundaries are. If the school doesn’t want kids on the hill, then they can enforce it. I still remember the places we weren’t allowed to go during recess in elementary school. Sure, there will be a few kids who break those rules, but imho, they shouldn’t get any sympathy if they get hurt doing something they were told not too.

    And the schools generally do these things as an unfortunate reaction. I work in one, and it’s always lawsuits or threats of parents that result in these changes. Teachers do try to teach kids the proper behavior, but the efforts are often thwarted by parents who insist that little Billy or Susie not be punished for breaking school rules. It’s parents who demand that “something” be done, one way or another. Schools are desperate (and often in a bad way) to keep their “customers” happy, even the unreasonable ones, so they bend over backwards to meet even the craziest demands.

  52. Part 1

    Sorry if overposting, but I do agree with the sentiments expressed that a school can enforce the boundaries of the hill & kids can learn boundaries, & in fact it is a good thing to do.

    However it is apparently the case that their REASON for this policy is for “helicopter-esque” reasons, an overreaction to an infinitesimal risk of a child being hurt. And that should be the point, not that they CAN do it.

    I agree with what Dolly said in the thread about how children now have to ask an adult before getting a fork–that is, one should question rules. Adults especially should do this–kids, not as much, because they’re just not smart enough depending on what their age is, and you don’t want a child sassing a teacher/principal etc. I’m one that, frankly, considers it to be the case that I don’t have to obey a rule if a reason isn’t given why it is what it is. I actually used to get slapped as a child because my mother would say “because I said so” when I questioned her about why I had to do something she said. I would actually say “that’s not good enough, you have to tell me WHY I can’t do that (or why I have to do that) or else I don’t have to obey you.”

    As a child, that was sassing, but as an adult and for adults–I wholeheartedly advocate that. To do otherwise is to be a mind-numb robot. You insult my intelligence as a college-educate experienced middle-aged adult when you say I’m just supposed to do what you say without thinking. Get out of here with that!

    End of part 1.

    LRH

  53. Part 2

    (I did it this way, versus one long post, thinking it might be easier to read this way.)

    As for those justifying it based on hysterical reactions of parents–yes, parents can be hysterical, but I blame the administrators equally. They CHOSE to cave, they were “thinking like lawyers.” As I mentioned in that posting Lenore linked to regarding the woman who pitched a fit at her preschool allowing a man to escort her child to the bathroom, which was a VERY bigoted anti-male “all men are perverts until proven otherwise” posting (archived link), I didn’t cave in to “you’re a man I don’t know thus you’re a pervert” pressure. One lady asked me to delete a photo I had taken of her daughter, who was holding my then 1-year old son in her arms (hence my interest in taking a photo of it), but I refused. Another lady screamed “don’t take my kids photo you pervert!” when I was photographing ducks at the lake.

    Again, I didn’t cave.

    Now it may have been easier for me to not cave, I’m not the administrator of a school with millions of dollars at stake, but I think the principle is the same nevertheless.

    It’s just like when people blame the persons who sue for all the insurance nonsense you have to put up with, or the absence of playground equipment due to parents suing etc. I don’t so much blame the parents who sue, I blame the judges who rule in their favor. If the judges would start having some common sense in their rulings and not pander to frivolous lawsuits, then all the sue-happy parents and greedy lawyers (not saying all lawyers are greedy, Donna, I promise!) wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

    Same here–I don’t blame the sue-happy parents, I blame the administrators for not having the backbone to stand up to it.

  54. David Robert Hogg, is there a reason why they can’t change where the kids are lining up? If the issue is kids running to get in line and falling, if they change the line up place to the other side, then the teacher can walk the kids up or down the steps, slowly. I know that people hate change (teachers included) but this seems like a simple solution.

  55. Larry, it is obvious from the design that children are not meant to be on the hill. My guess is that running down the hill has always been against the rules; it has just been done anyway. Now the school is tired of kids getting hurt, and rather than enforcing a rule that had always existed, is going to extreme measures. The issue to me is NOT that the school doesn’t want kids going down the hill -whether for safety or landscaping reasons – but that they would rather coddle the children and make it impossible to go down the hill instead simply enforcing a rule.

  56. The vast majority of commenters, and the OP, clearly have no idea how the law works. Most suits are frivolous. In many, by the time the judge even looks at an aspect of your case, you are already out thousands of dollars. Court dates can be set for over a year away, during which time the lawyers spar back and forth, and charge even more. In the state of Washington, it isn’t easy to go after compensation for legal fees. It’s horrible. The damage to your wallet, and to your health from stress, can be devastating.

    Do you really think this principal would be making a wise choice for her own family to expose herself to the risk of being named in a suit? Do you even think that the cash-strapped school system gives her a choice in such matters?

    This looks to me like just another case of people blaming the schools, blaming the teachers, blaming the principals for the problems of the society at large.

    Instead of being so outraged, OP, why don’t you volunteer for the Playground Committee she says she will be meeting with – she clearly wants parental input. Why don’t you stand up in front of the “helicopters” at your school, rather than sit in front of your computer screen looking for anonymous agreement that won’t change anything at your school?

  57. The problem is the curbing, not the hill.

  58. Sorry I agree with the principal because of this statement “After a few injuries caused by large groups of students running down the slope to line up after recess, I asked our custodial engineer to temporarily tape the area to keep students from running down the slope.”

    This is a temporary measure. When is the last time you all saw 60 – 120 kids running and jocking to be the 1st in line. I looked at how that slope is landscaped and especially the curb at the bottom and cringed. I can see one of my 2nd graders catching a toe on that curb tripping and getting trampled in the stampede to be first.

    Yesterday one of my kids face planted in the hall. 2 kids fell over her – and they were walking in line. (The first one that tripped has space issues and was to close in line after the girl. The 2nd child resides on Pluto and wasn’t aware of what happened till she was on the ground).

    There are several solutions to the problem
    1 – regrade the slope so that there isn’t so much of a lip at the curb

    2. Do something about the curb. A knee wall perhaps. we have one in an area of our school kids jump/climb over it but it is safer than a curb like that because the kids see it clearly. The curb lip thing goes right under their radar.

    3. Line up at a different location, maybe up top. Hard to say because we can’t see the rest of the play ground, but I suspect there is an area with plenty of room. That is going to take retraining the kids. I know “just tell them to line up at X instead of y.” It isn’t that simple especially when they have been lining up at Y for years habits and “muscle memory” kick in. Last year the other teacher with playground duty and I switched the way the 4th graders lined up – because of the stampede hurting some kids. We told them – they still did what they had been doing for five years (PK – 3). We ended up having to practice at the beginning of each recess with the promise that when they all lined up correctly in the new way the practices would stop. It took a week for them to get it.

    (Oh our kids stampede to line up because our schedule is recess – lunch – specials. They want to be first in line to get lunch. the only grade doesn’t have a stampede is 1st they have lunch-specials-recess)

  59. The hill is definitely a safety issue – they need to take out the curb that is the trip hazard and that I bet caused the injuries. I would also tape off the area until the curb is removed – or the slope planted if that’s cheaper. If one more child falls and that child’s parents find out it was a recognized issue the school will likely be sued. Would you rather the education budget go to lawsuits or education? I choose education and the principal does, too.

    I used to work in a place that had a high child population and yes, parents are quick to blame site owners and sue for very minor things. I’ve had to listen to shouting parents and process claims for nothing more than scratches caused by kids being kids that were no fault of the site.

    The current culture of blaming everyone else is the root cause and for the sake of our children that needs to change.

  60. Sorry but I’m with Lenore & the original poster–the hill, curb & all, look fine to me. If there is any problem I’d say it’s kids who don’t adapt & parents who throw a fit over every little thing.

    I like “natural consequences” parenting. In our kitchen at home there is an extension cord right where the kids like to run in a circle. They trip over it on occasion, but I haven’t moved it–it’s the only place I can plug in a particular air conditioner short of hiring an electrician to rewire the house. I let them play near it anyway but also expect them to work around it or they fall & hit the floor. They’re only 2 & 4 but I STILL do this.

    It’s so easy–the school needs to expect the kids to adapt to what is, double that for the parents, & let’s move on. This is nuts.

    I guess I couldn’t be a school administrator because that’s what I’d do, my job be damned. (I’m sure, in fact, I’d never make it past the 1st interview once I expressed my views on such things.) We’ve made things too hard by placating stupidity.

    LRH
    Android 2.2

  61. Guess what? By adding that yellow tape, someone is more likely to get hurt, because there are kids who will see that as a challenge. He’s also opening the school up to a lawsuit if an actual injury takes place because they’ve marked the area as a “hazard” – way to go principal!

  62. It’s a good thing these kids didn’t live in the 1950’s or 60’s, Darwin would have had a good time. Live and learn. My parents would have said from now on watch where you’re going dummy.

  63. Hmmm… I have no problem with the idea of temporarily taping off the area. If the school really doesn’t want kids playing there, taping it off might be a good reminder of “hey, don’t play/run/go here.” To me, it looks like a garden area the school might not want kids trampling through–though perhaps the landscaping mentioned might serve that. I also support the notion of moving the line-up place. When I was teaching, we had repeated issues with a certain area, so to save everyone’s sanity we simply moved it.

  64. @antsy, we have a series of steep hills behind my children’s school that are perfect for sledding on. One day I met the kids up at the school with a pile of sleds and snowboards, and of course, every other kid who lives in the neighborhood wanted to sled before they went home, too. I did not have enough sleds for everyone. After some of the kids slid down on their bellies for a while like penguins, the teacher in the nearby classroom (who had been watching us), came out the back door with a pile of lunch trays! It’s nice when some school staff still knows how to show kids some fun!

  65. @Jules, Three cheers for you and the fun-loving staff at both of our schools! Before we the current headmaster came to our school, the children were forbidden from even touching patches of snow during school recess. Other silly rules were beginning to pop up here and there due to a handful of parents’ gripes. This man saved our school!

  66. While this is ridiculous (I like one of the posters idea here of installing a zip line instead!), what struck me equally as absurd, was the fact that the principal even felt compelled to formally write a letter/email to notify the parents about this. Good gravy, too much information! I guess this is what they mean by open communication and parent involvement in their child’s education? A little overkill, eh?

    Good grief, Charlie Brown.

  67. O.M.F.G. (Oh My Fairy Garden)! the spectre of public liability rises again. I agree wholeheartedly with the David’s assessment. I design children’s playspaces for a living and was in a past life, a trained teacher. The biggest problems I see in most playspaces I’ve assessed is the creation of the playspaces by people who have no idea about children’s behaviour and their developmental needs (yes, including challenge/risk taking) and lack of adult supervision. Any area can become a potential hazard if it is misused. The purpose of having teachers in the playground is not to inhibit play (or ignore the children and discuss last night True Blood episode) but to monitor the childrens’ play and intervene if play or behaviour becomes dangerous to them or their peers. This intervention should be dictated by common sense (which is not as common as you think) not as a proxy for the schools insurance company. Vexatious civil litigation (or fear thereof) appears to have become the cancer of our society.

  68. But wait — we’re not talking about injuries DURING play, we’re talking about injuries during the rush to get back inside the school AFTER play. There have been “a few” injuries, not just one; there’s a playground committee which presumably includes some parents; the taping is temporary until the problem gets solved.

    So it’s not like someone identified a problem where none really exists, is it, and just arbitrarily decided to close the slope? Sounds to me like a problem presented itself in the form of actual injuries at a specific time and the closure is a stopgap while the school comes up with a solution. The fact that the principal identified those specifics is reassuring to me that she actually is giving the issue careful consideration. I’ll reserve judgement until we see what they decide to do, if we get an update.

    Now, the cafeteria story in the next post, that really is ridiculous.

  69. Starting from when my kids were just crawling, I put up a safety gate on the stairs in my house. BUT…. I left about 6 steps free for practice. The kids could climb and fall and learn to negotiate those steps without seriously hurting themselves by falling too far down the steps.

    My son is now a multi-licensed skydiver and a pilot. Go figure.

  70. @Michelle, a co-worker of mine just told me about getting an email from his daughter’s school informing the parents that all was well and all kids were “safe” after…wait for it…a false fire alarm at the school that day!

    Yup, some kid pulled the fire alarm, the school was evacuated, there was no fire, and school resumed; and this was worth a reassuring email to all parents. Too much information, indeed.

  71. So what happens when a kid falls down the steps I see in the picture? Rope off that too? Maybe we should just keep the kids inside where it is safe…. uh oh there are stairs inside too.

    Yes let them learn to be careful. Not afraid.

  72. PC idiocy.

  73. @Beth – I think the e-mail makes sense – if the fire department came to respond to the alarm. A few years ago we had a fire evacuation – in the rain – during a state test. Turned out to be a faulty sensor in a smoke detector. Parents who could see the school from their homes were upset. Also garbled versions of what happened involving 10 foot flames made it home.

    Another time we evacuated with the fire department showing up because a Kindergartener pulled the alarm. Again parents came to pull their kids out for the day.

    Last year an armed robber being chased by the police ran across our playground during 2nd and 3rd grade recess requiring a reverse evacuation (code for get the kids the hell inside) and a lock down while the police search our building. (He disappeared around a corner, where a door is. They didn’t know if he had gone inside or if he had kept running.) They caught him next door. I have to give the police credit. Once they cleared our building – the doors were kept locked and we went about our business. The police and principal (a man) were hugging the kids who were still scared and explaining that they were safe.

    We had another “reverse evacuation” (Love that nonsense term) a few weeks ago. We could hear a bunch of fire trucks and smelled natural gas/rotten eggs. There is major road work including digging going on right at the corner of our street. Turns out they hit something. It was fixed fairly quickly. For that one only our 2nd graders knew something was up because we were out there. The other kids just heard an announcement that ‘due to air quality issues we will have indoor recess today’

  74. Personally I appreciate knowing serious things that happen at school. My mother and I were very disturbed to find out that bomb threats were called in regularly at my high school and not only did they never evacuate the students, they never even notified us or our parents about it. Sorry, but we have the right to know if there is a bomb threat, legitimate or not and then make the decision if we want to risk staying in the school or going home for the day. I found this out once I started working in the office as an office aide. The secretary told me about it in case I got a bomb threat when I answered the phones.

    Whereas, my husband’s high school would evacuate the students to the football field and search the school whenever they got a bomb threat.

    A kid pulling a fire alarm is not a huge deal and I don’t need to know about that, but for more serious things, I better be informed. Especially things like bomb threats and what not. I have a right as the parent to know.

  75. I graduated high school in ’99, so we got LOTS of bomb threats following Columbine. They always evacuated us to the football field, which was maaaaaybe 30 feet from the back of the high school. It was hilarious. One time they evacuated us to the middle school which was probably 600 feet from the front of the high school. It was completely ridiculous. That school district was not designed for evacuations.

  76. Kiesha: Okay I graduated in 99 too so I guess that is why the influx of bomb threats. So did my husband. I understand that 99% of them are probably fake ones and maybe they can’t address every single bomb threat or no learning would ever get done. However I still feel they should have at least contacted the parents and let them know each time they got one so it was THEIR call to take their kid out or not. I mean what if one time it was a real bomb threat and they did nothing!

  77. OK, I give! Being informed about a false fire alarm is totally necessary!! (And, I didn’t mention armed robbers or bomb threats…just a fire alarm.)

    I clearly don’t understand wanting to pull one’s kid out of school for the day because of a false fire alarm though……

  78. Presumably they thought it was a real fire alarm. Which is why it’s important to get the word out when it’s not.

  79. I guess that, when I send my kids to school, I trust the school to be able to get them through the day. Sure, I’d be curious if I heard sirens or saw a fire truck heading to the school, but I assume that the school can handle an alarm and probably even has procedures for it. And absent a call that my, or any kid, died in a fire..or was hospitalized due to a fire (or science project gone wrong), I’m fine with my child telling me about it. I don’t need emails from the school telling me what happened there all day every day. Sorry, but that seems a little helicopterish to me.

  80. Really?!! Ok, part of me laughed out loud at this. Where my kids go to school is on a very steep and rocky hill. That principal would just die if he saw our kids’ playground. They have decent equipment but the it is the steep hill with loose and crumbly granite over disintegrating chip-seal that is the real “danger.” But, the kids do FINE. You should see it during the winter. It is a ski hill. But 75% of the kids learn to ski at 3 .. so they are fine.

    More seriously. OUTRAGEOUS! What next?
    I’m so pleased to read that the dad responded to the principal regarding natural consequences. Bravo!!

  81. In my experience (limited to daycare at this point) parents today feel enormously guilty over time at work and away from their children. They seem to compensate for this by overprotecting and overreacting to the smallest things thinking this makes them involved and making them feel less guilty. The teacher/parent relationship and especially the parent/administrator relationship has become more like a business and the parents are the customer. They are never wrong, no matter how much training and new fun ideas a teacher has, the overprotective parent is right. I realize this is a school and not a day care but many parents don’t even pick their child up from school but they go to before and after care while parents work…leading to guilty parents.
    It’s also different when I deal with my own children and smile as they accomplish walking along a steep high wall without my holding their hand. I would NEVER let another person’s child do the same thing in my care..it’s too risky. As to the person who blames the administration for “caving”….it’s cave, or be closed down. Even if nothing criminal happens, just having your name in the paper or your center’s name on the lips of unhappy parents is enough for enrollment to drop and jobs to be lost. It’s very sad but true. I don’t fault the principal at all. Her reputation, job and life are at stake even if NO child gets hurt, it takes only a few unhappy parents to spoil any fun. I also LOVE what (am) had to say above…all of us, including myself, that want our children to have FUN on the playground should stop blaming others…get involved if possible! I take back what I said about wishing I could home school them…that’s no solution. I am going to make it my business to get involved and volunteer, maybe I will even play WITH them!🙂

  82. I laughed for a good while over this picture. Seriously? My cousins in Greece play in a park that has a cliff right next to it. While that’s a bit much, this school has definitely gone to the other extreme.

  83. Thinking like a landscaper … a few LARGE bushes or a wall at the top of that slope would guide the traffic where it’s supposed to go.

    Or widening the steps so they are wide enough for a herd of kids, and are in the logical traffic pattern.

  84. My daughters 2nd grade teacher made them play in a field NEXT to the playground at recess everyday. They weren’t allowed on the actual playground at the school because she was afraid someone would get hurt. So silly. Why even have a playground? They could just as easily twist an ankle or fall down in the field. It has gotten way out of hand… kids fall, they get hurt. Its just part of being a kid, you cant protect them from life.

  85. It’s funny – the discussion in Australia is now trending the opposite of this! They have a sloping area they encourage the kids to tackle! Look at the picture of the first article!

    The Principle has added an extra recess for the children to break up the day and banned handheld games during this time. Sports and running are – encouraged!

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/schoolboys-thrive-on-risk-at-recess-20111020-1madc.html

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/blogs/blunt-instrument/ditch-the-cotton-wool-and-let-boys-be-boys-20111026-1mkbl.html

  86. Hmmmm. Taken aback, one might be. “Outraged” is a bit of an overreaction also, dont’cha think?

  87. Hurrah, either they have more sensible judges and parents or fewer personal injury lawyers.

  88. “A custodial engineer” taped off the area, looks liek the kids could have done better!

  89. Hey, Lenore. Do you know (of) Teacher Tom? While his “thing” is play-based education, there are so many parallels to free-range upbringing. It just so happens that he recently wrote a blog post about a hill at his school. http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/something-that-matters.html
    I think you’ll enjoy it.

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