At McLean School, Playing Tag Turns Into Hot Potato
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
A playground pastime is getting a timeout this spring at a McLean elementary school.
Robyn Hooker, principal of Kent Gardens Elementary School, has told students they may no longer play tag during recess after determining that the game of chasing, dodging and yelling "You're it!" had gotten out of hand. Hooker explained to parents in a letter this month that tag had become a game "of intense aggression."
The principal said that her goal is to keep students safe and that she hopes to restore tag (as well as touch football, also now on hold) after teachers and administrators review recess policies.
The decision has touched off a debate among parents. Some call the restriction an example of overzealous rulemaking that fails to address root problems and undermines children's development; others say it's best to err on the side of caution.
"We are regulating the fun out of normal childhood activity," said Jan van Tol, father of a Kent Gardens sixth-grader. "In our effort to be so overprotective, we are not letting children be children."
Gerri Swarm, secretary of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, said she was glad the principal was taking seriously student concerns about being pushed or shoved. "In this day and age, you can't dismiss this as something not to worry about," she said.
Many schools nationwide have whittled down playground activities in response to concerns about injuries, bullying or litigation. Dodge ball is a thing of the past in many places, and contact sports are often limited at recess.
The Fairfax County schools' office of risk management maintains a list of activities that are prohibited at any school-sponsored events. In addition to bungee-jumping and scuba diving, students are not permitted to break dance or play dodge ball or tug-of-war.
Restrictions on tag are less common. Officials at several suburban Washington school systems said they were not aware of any schools that had banned the game outright.
In most places, principals have considerable leeway to decide what is appropriate or safe recess behavior as they sometimes manage large numbers of students in small spaces. Kent Gardens, with more than 900 students, is over capacity. Hooker said the playground can get crowded when there are four or five classes there at one time.
Over the past couple of months, she had noticed that tag was taking up too much space and sending too many students to the nurse's office.
"This is not the old-fashioned tag, where you could use two fingers and you would be it and move on to someone else," Hooker said. The game, she said, has become much more aggressive. "I call it the nouveau tag."