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Guess why this school district wants to get rid of the game of ‘tag’

Elementary school children play tag together at a park. (iStock)
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Webster’s defines “tag” as “a game in which the player who is it chases others and tries to touch one of them who then becomes it.” Wikipedia explains that the game, also known in Britain as “it, tip you’re it” is “a playground game that involves one or more players chasing other players in an attempt to ‘tag’ or touch them, usually with their hands.”

So is the game of “tag” still “tag” if tagging is banned?

That is the question for the Mercer Island School District in Washington state and for some unhappy parents.

It all started with a social media report earlier this week when a group of parents, responding to what they had heard was a ban on the game of tag in elementary schools, formed a group called “Support ‘tag’ at Recess.”

It was their impression that there was indeed a ban and the word soon spread to the news media.

“School District bans game of tag to ‘ensure physical, emotional safety of students,'” said the headline on the QFox13 news Web site.

“Elementary schools draw community backlash for ‘hands off’ at recess,” reported the Mercer Island Reporter.

A spokesman for the school district seemed to reinforce the impression with a statement:

“The Mercer Island School District and school teams have recently revisited expectations for student behavior to address student safety. This means while at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students.
“School staffs are working with students in the classroom to ensure that there are many alternative games available at recess and during unsupervised play, so that our kids can still have fun, be with their friends, move their bodies and give their brains a break.”

“Good grief, our kids need some unstructured playtime,” mom Kelsey Joyce told the TV station. “It’s a game that practically everyone has played – but if you go to public school on Mercer Island, keep your hands to yourself.

“I totally survived tag,” said Joyce. “I even survived red rover, believe it or not.”

“I played tag,” said mom Melissa Neher, “I survived.”

Thursday the school district attempted to clarify. What it really has in mind, said a statement, was a “new form of tag-like running games [sic] to minimize the issues of ‘you were tagged/no I wasn’t’ or ‘the tag was too hard and felt more like a hit.’ Tag is not banned,” it insisted. “We plan to support our elementary students with new games and alternatives that still involve running and exercising.”

Running. Exercising. But no mention of touching, however, raising the question of how a child can become “it” without being touched.

The cause for concern, the school district explained, were some “isolated incidents of unfortunate interactions that occurred on the playground where students were injured and some stemmed from games involving student contact with each other …. We know that in order for students to be their best in the classroom, they need to feel safe and secure within the school environment …. Our hope has always been and continues to be an expectation that students respect others’ personal space and respect their individual and unique differences.”

The rules for the new “tag-like” game were not set forth. An “air-tag,” perhaps? A tag-like gesture? A mere shout of “you’re it?”

How close would the existing “it” have to be to the target “it” before a shout of “you’re it” is permitted?

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred incorrectly to the Mercer County School District. It’s the Mercer Island School District.