After years of parents pleading with administrators to make schools safer, some worry that schools are now going too far in the name of protecting kids. Zero-tolerance policies enacted to prevent violence are being used to penalize students who bring in a homemade clock to impress their teachers or try to cut an apple during a presentation about healthy eating.
And the latest offender on the chopping block? Tag. You know, that game that children have been playing for generations on school playgrounds all over the world? Apparently, it violates some schools' policies that require kids to keep their hands and feet to themselves at all times.
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The issue came to a head recently at Washington state's Mercer Island School District when school administrators banned the game in the name of child safety.
Communications director Mary Grady explained the decision in an email sent to parents:
“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."
Grady continued by saying that the school staff would work with children to come up with alternative games that kids could play without violating the new rule.
Upset with the policy, and the lack of parental or student involvement in creating it, Mercer Island parents formed a Facebook group called, "STAR MI" (Support Tag At Recess In Mercer Island.) Within a few hours, several hundred parents had joined the group to express their frustration over the new rule.
As a result of the backlash, Mercer Island School District has reversed its policy and reinstated tag on its playgrounds.
But the whole incident has parents around the country talking about the steps schools should (and shouldn't) take to protect kids. Because this isn't the first time tag has been banned, along with dodgeball, wrestling, fake fighting and even hand holding.
In 2013, Coghlan Fundamental Elementary School in British Columbia banned all of these activities and more in an effort to protect kids from one another. As did New Hampshire's Charlotte Avenue Elementary School, Virginia's Kent Gardens Elementary, and Colorado's Colorado Springs Elementary School, just to name a few.
While some argue that these policies are necessary to adhere to the "zero" portion of zero-tolerance policies on violence, others insist that overzealous regulating of kids — especially during what's supposed to be their one free period of unstructured play — misses the whole point of what kids need to stay healthy.
Aside from all of the movement and exercise that goes along with a good game of tag, Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel argues that kids need "roughhousing" games like tag and wrestling to let off steam and to prevent more violent episodes from occurring. "Contrary to what squeamish authorities seem to think, it’s the kids who don’t engage in rough-and-tumble play who actually tend to be more violent later on in life," she noted in a recent column.
Hopefully, the recent pushback at Mercer Island will get school administrators, parents and students around the country talking about the policies that are needed to keep kids safe and healthy and those that have just gone too far.