Opposing parents groups find common ground on the playground

School officials and parents reportedly have reached an agreement over the rules of the playground at Irving Primary School.

The squabble began in November as school officials, citing safety and security concerns, moved to curtail after-school access to the playground by children not enrolled in the Irving School after-school program.  Parents of the children unaffiliated with the after-school program objected to the policy that restricted their childrens’ use of the playground and equipment.

Under the new compromise, the non-after-school program youngsters and their parents will be able to hang out on the playground, until the after-school program staff would signal that it is time to clear out the playground for the after-school program participants. School officials were unhappy with the crowded chaos that often ensued when the after-school program participants shared the space with the non-after-school program students. The after-school staff reportedly had a problem supervising the facilities and controlling behavior, when both groups were present. The parents of the after-school program students were upset that the quality of the after-school program for which they pay a substantial  enrollment fee was being compromised by the playground access situation. The agreement that was negotiated allows the non-after-school program students to have free reign of the playground for a limited amount of time and also responds to the needs of the after-school program participants to have important outside recreation time and the concerns of the supervising staff who wanted a more controlled playground environment.

In a sample policy that it provides to school districts, the New Jersey School Boards Association recommends making school facilities, including the playground, available for use by the greater public, as long as that use neither compromises the school’s primary mission of providing an education, nor threatens the safety of students and faculty.

“The use of school facilities by the public is determined locally by the school board, in consultation with its attorney,” said Jeanette Rundquist, a spokeswoman for the NJSBA.

The Highland Park Board of Education policy stipulated that all school playgrounds are to be made available for the general public outside school hours. This policy allows the board to limit those hours to protect the safety of the schools.

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