School District Denies Banning 'Tag' After Parental Backlash

Ben Graham | September 25, 2015
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Mercer Island School District in the state of Washington allegedly banned the popular child’s game of "Tag" from its playgrounds to "ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students." They couldn't foresee the backlash they would soon receive from their students' parents.

Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano released a statement Thursday saying that there was no actual ban on tag. 

“Our principal was communicating a new message about a 'hands off' expectation at recess. The new expectation was made with the best of intentions. We wanted the school year to begin with an explicit promotion about a more positive playground experience by asking students to keep their hands and feet to themselves at all times, including recess, unless of course directed by an adult to do so.”

Dr. Plano further explained the school district’s stance, saying:

“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. Sometimes games during supervised, unstructured play deteriorated into name-calling, fighting and injury. Our hope has always been and continues to be an expectation that students respect others' personal space and respect their individual and unique differences. We know students will make mistakes, and we want to be present for all of those teachable moments.”

Parents were most concerned by the question of why they weren’t involved in the decision-making process. One mother even went so far as to make a group on Facebook to spread awareness of the school’s alleged ban. She said that kids these days need more spontaneous physical activity.

“In this day and age of childhood obesity, there’s a need for more activity,” said the group’s creator Melissa Neher. “Kids should be free to have spontaneous play on the playground at recess. It’s important for their learning.”

By Friday, the district dropped the change in policy after receiving such a strong backlash from parents, those from both in and out of the Mercer Island School District. The school district released a statement along with their reevaluated decision that reads:

"The ‘hands-off’ policy intended for unstructured play and recess however well intended, has led to confusion, false reporting and is clearly not supported by many staff and many parents. Although the plan was focused on keeping students safe, it lacked stakeholder participation and support. The expectations for student behavior both in and out of our classrooms can be found in the published Students Rights and Responsibilities. Playground rules and expectations can also be found in each school’s handbook.

"Tag as we know it and have known it is reinstated. In addition, students may continue to play “flag tag” as they wish. Other respectful games that involve appropriate physical interaction are also encouraged. Our school principals and teachers will work with our students as they imagine and develop new games for play.

"Each school principal will reach out to his/her parent community and staff to determine whether or not expectations during unstructured playtime are well known and shared. If changes need to be made, stakeholder input will be sought at each school. In addition, elementary principals will seek student input and feedback on these expectations to demonstrate ownership in their learning.

"Yes, we are a learning organization, too."