'You're It!' May Again Be Heard at Va. School

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008; Page B01

Students at Kent Gardens Elementary School in McLean are refining their dodging skills and polishing their recess etiquette this week in preparation for a game of tag.

Three weeks ago, Principal Robyn Hooker halted the pastime, saying that it had become too aggressive. Her decision set off debate among parents -- some appreciative of her caution and others wary that the restriction was excessive. Now, a committee of administrators and teachers has devised a plan to reinstate the game.

After a week of "reorientation lessons on playground safety" in physical education classes, classroom discussions of safe recess behavior and monitoring by teachers on the blacktop, students are likely to be yelling "You're it!" by tomorrow.

The plan was detailed in an e-mail to parents last Thursday. The Safety and Discipline Committee was to meet last night, and a round of class meetings was planned for this morning to make sure students understand safety rules before a final decision is made. But Hooker said in the e-mail that she anticipates a "full recess schedule of activities should be able to resume by Friday . . . in honor of the national Playground Safety Week."

Hooker suspended the touch-and-run game after determining that it was getting out of hand. She also called for a review of playground rules and behavior by the safety committee. She said students who played tag were often getting knocked down or piling on top of each other. Some students were dragged into the game unwittingly.

Hooker said she was trying to maintain safety on a campus with limited playground space for more than 900 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. But many parents protested her decision, calling it Draconian and saying that by cutting tag, Hooker was limiting a chance for students to learn to cope with challenges, not to mention experience a quintessential childhood game.

Hooker did not return phone calls yesterday.

Some parents cheered news of the planned reinstatement.

Chris Delta, who has two daughters at Kent Gardens, said she was glad the school was taking a "more reasonable approach to dealing with aggressive behavior on the playground."

She said it was unfortunate that the school had taken "extreme measures" to address a problem. "They could have convened a committee to have dealt with this earlier" and avoided triggering a controversy that divided parents and students, she said.

Last week, some students circulated a petition to end the moratorium on tag and other contact sports that had been restricted. Fifth-grader Elizabeth Sanders-Smith, 11, said she and others gathered 160 signatures and planned to give them to the principal during a protest on the blacktop. She called it off after she said Hooker told her she would reverse the decision.

Elizabeth said maintaining the restriction would have been unfair. "We're kids, and we have to enjoy all the free time we have," she said.

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