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At McLean School, Playing Tag Turns Into Hot Potato

This tag involves grabbing people who do not necessarily know they are playing and possibly bumping them to the ground. "Then the kids do 'pyramiding' or 'towering.' They pile on each other. [Sometimes] they call it 'jailhouse' or 'jailbreak,' " because the child has to break out, she said.

Since the prohibition began early this month, physical education teachers have begun a "chasing, fleeing and dodging" unit in first through fifth grades. Students essentially play variations of tag, and the teachers remind them about safety rules and point out the athletic skills they can transfer to other sports, said Sue Straits, a PE teacher.

Stephanie Sullenger, president of the Kent Gardens PTA, said she supports the principal. Sullenger said she suspects that children are acting out because of "spring fever," and that as their behavior improves, tag will be restored.

In the meantime, she said, "children are very resilient and creative, and I'm sure have moved on to find wonderful things to do on the playground."

Other parents said that slips and falls are part of growing up and that restricting games is not the right solution.

Chris Delta, a Kent Gardens mother, said she knows "life's not going to breeze" for her children. She wants them to learn how to cope with difficulty.

Her own daughter has been injured on the playground, she said. Once she was pushed off a jungle gym and had the wind knocked out of her, and another time she got a goose egg when a student threw a rock in the air and it landed on her head.

"I didn't expect because of these two instances that the equipment would be banned or all the rocks or pebbles or stones would be taken away," Delta said.

Michael Haaren, a father, said that if some children are being too aggressive, they should be disciplined. Limiting the activity is a "draconian" measure, he said.

He is concerned that schools are on a bad trajectory. "Where are we headed here? The elimination of recess altogether? It has happened in other schools. Will we eliminate 'duck duck goose' because kids are being touched?" he asked.

Dozens of parents turned out for a PTA meeting to hear the principal explain the decision. Many opposed the plan.

Hooker said the resistance surprised her. "I did not know that tag was so sacred," she said.

But many talk about the game in a tone tinged with nostalgia.

"When you think about elementary school, you do think about recess and tag. Boys chase girls and girls chase boys," Heidi Schwarztrauber said. "There is a lot of growing up in that."

She opposes restricting the game. "I think it robs the children of something very special . . . a universal experience," she said.

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