“Tag ban lifted on Mercer Island; school playgrounds return to normal”
Originally published in the Seattle Times, September 25, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Updated September 25, 2015 at 6:39 pm, Paige Cornwell, Seattle Times staff reporter
The Mercer Island School District has reinstated the game of tag following an outcry from parents.
“Tag, as we know it and have known it, is reinstated,” the school district said in a prepared statement Friday.
That reversal came after parents objected to a new “hands off” policy, which required students to keep their hands and feet to themselves at all times, including recess.
Parents first learned about the policy at a meeting with the principal at Lakeridge Elementary, one of the district’s three elementary schools.
“The new expectation was made with the best of intentions,” Superintendent Gary Plano wrote in a message Thursday to parents and the district community. “Our hope has always been and continues to be an expectation that students respect others’ personal space and respect their individual and unique differences.”
Along with objecting to the ban itself, some parents also were upset they hadn’t been consulted about the change, said Kelsey Joyce, whose two children go to Lakeridge. One parent started a Facebook group called “STAR MI (Support ‘Tag’ At Recess in Mercer Island).” The group had more than 400 members Friday afternoon.
“The kids had been told not to play tag, and I think they were really bummed,” Joyce said. “To be honest, kids get hurt on the playground. It’s an unfortunate part of life, but part of learning and growing.”
They weren’t the only ones upset. The ban, originally reported by local media earlier this week, soon made its way to national outlets like The Washington Post and became a heated topic on talk-radio shows.
The district said there were isolated incidents last year stemming from games involving student contact, where unstructured play “deteriorated into name-calling, fighting and injury.”
At first, the district responded to the outcry by saying that it planned to come up with alternatives to tag.
On Friday, the district sent out another message, clarifying that tag will be allowed.
Other districts around the nation have banned contact games and, in some cases, balls and other playground equipment, as education officials try to balance safety with playtime, said Jonathan Blasher, executive director of the nonprofit Playworks. In 2006, some Spokane elementary schools prohibited tag over concerns about student safety.
“I think a game like tag is wonderful,” Blasher said. “You can play it almost anywhere, it’s universal. It’s important for kids to have that free-range play, where adults aren’t micromanaging, but there is the need for assurance that the kids have a basic understanding what the expectations are.”
The return of tag is good news for Joyce’s children; her son and his friends play four different types of tag, including a version involving a hot-lava monster.
“I don’t even really understand that one, but it’s great they are fostering creative development of thinking,” she said.
Like taking away early elementary recess to make way for more math, this craziness provides an almost perfect operational definition of micromanaging the lives of our children — and of forgetting what it’s like to be a kid. Yes, tag is not always fair. Some kids “tap” too hard. Some kids fall when running. Some kids are more likely to win than others. At worst, some childhood games end in name-calling and fights.
Those games teach kids a great deal about life, which certainly isn’t fair either. They can help kids learn to manage negative emotions and to avoid conflicts. Games let kids manage themselves and create play for themselves, inspiring initiative and creativity.
Games like tag also provide exercise. We have too many morbidly obese elementary school children who desperately need to run around fields more and twiddle their thumbs on controllers less. I blame at least part of America’s growing childhood obesity problem on the lack of real, spontaneous, outdoor play.
Fears of inappropriate touching while playing tag concern me even more. These are elementary age children. We can create an atmosphere where touching is easily misinterpreted. When we ask leading questions about how one kid touched another, we have the potential to create concern in the mind of a child being questioned. Suddenly, sinister possibilities enter into a game that had only been intended for fun. Adult fears can steal away students’ childhoods.
I don’t want to seem to diminish or put down concerns about potential abuse, but my friends and I played tag and many other outdoor games for all the years of my childhood. I never came close to a situation I interpreted as abusive and I never heard that any of my friends did either. I usually lost and I skinned a few knees, but those kids trying to tag me at Jennie Reed Elementary School never once seemed to have ulterior motives. They wanted to win a game and show off how well they could run. That’s all.
In my case, I mostly wanted to avoid embarrassment since I knew I would never be one of the faster kids. But I still played and I was still happy to join in the game. I went right into that circle of kids who gathered to plan the game when somebody yelled, “Let’s play tag!” Or I ran away and yelled, “You can’t catch meee!”
Eduhonesty: We need to let children play in peace and put the social agenda away, at least during recess.