By Bhavana Gopinath –
Woodroffe Avenue Public School has changed its schoolyard practices to try and strike a balance between kids’ safety and their freedom.
The school recently started the practice of closing the yard gates at the end of the school day. This means that the yard and the play structure within it may be used only by the children in its Extended Day Program. Other kids may use the yard from 4.30 p.m., when EDP users have left for the day.
This stance is endorsed by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, which says, “Our concern is always the safety of all our students. While the yard is in use by the school and the after-hours program, access is restricted by locking the gates. Those gates are unlocked when the extended day program users have left for the day.”
The Woodroffe Avenue Public School council discussed this issue at two of its council meetings in the fall. The council feels the principal presented the rationale for the closure, listened to parents’ concerns and modified the access times in a way that allows safe supervision during the extended day program and allows community access beginning at 4:30 pm. The council acknowledges that some parents support the gate closure, and some are frustrated with it.
Some of the parents unhappy with this decision have started an online petition to try and persuade the school to reverse its decision. This petition can be viewed here. They also hope that the supervisor and trustee of the school can help in this regard.
Roslyn Richardson, mother of a Grade 4 child, is one of those parents. Although she does not claim to speak on behalf of all anti-closure parents, she believes the safety issues that the principal is concerned about should not be allowed to affect all the kids in the school. She says that the school is already reasonably safe: the yard is fenced, security systems are in place, and lockdown drills and bullying-prevention programs empower the kids.
“We shouldn’t be keeping the kids in a bubble, we should teach them how to deal with [safety] issues,” she adds.
For Roslyn and some of the other parents, this is also about wider issues. Kids should be able to play and hang out in their own school yard while waiting for parents to pick them up. We can’t tell our kids to be more physically active and then restrict access to their own yard which has a play structure.
Some of these parents have proposed alternatives like patrolling the yard after school or placing barriers to separate the EDP kids from the other school kids, but these haven’t been accepted.
For now, the school will lean on the side of safety. A locked school yard is the new norm for Woodroffe Avenue Public School.