Stratford Landing Elementary students rejoice! A near four-month ban on recently installed playground equipment is being lifted, with more good news for recess goers on the way.
School officials used caution tape early in the fall semester to quarantine new playground installations including an arching, monkey bar-style climber and a Gyro Twister pole swing.
The climber and other equipment, which was paid for through a PTA fundraiser, was branded unsafe by school administrators, who cited its 94-inch height — 10 inches higher than county safety regulations allow — as a central issue for the equipment being cordoned off.
Stratford Landing PTA President Michele Nellenbach explained, “We had typically sold wrapping paper in the fall, but last year we had a booster-a-thon [a walk-a-thon fundraiser] and we made a lot of money. We were then hearing from the school that they were interested in getting a track and that resonated with some parents, but others wanted to do something more.”
The PTA paid for an $18,000 track to be installed, posted a fence to prevent soccer balls from rolling downhill into a patch of poison ivy, bought a shed for recess toys and purchased the $35,000 playground equipment.
The goal, Nellenbach said, was for the Gyro Twister swing and monkey bars to be the first fitness stop along the track. The additions were installed in October during teacher workdays when students were away. About two weeks after installment, the equipment was taped off by school administrators.
“It was really difficult and disheartening to show up one day at school and see it wrapped up in plastic [tape],” Nellenbach said. “We get differing accounts of what the problems are... To their credit, [the school system] acknowledges that there was some error there and they are working with us.”
School officials said that while its staff worked with PTA parents on approving the new playground equipment, there may have been a misunderstanding about the procedures that needed to be followed. As a result, school spokesman John Torre said, school officials hoped for a solution that would both please parents while complying with safety policies.
The solution was emailed to parents and school officials Wednesday afternoon.
In his email, school system Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Platenberg gave an eight-point outline, which would allow the Stratford Landing playground equipment, with the exception of the Gyro Twister swing, to be retained.
The PTA’s recent additions would remain closed while Fairfax County Public Schools constructed elements to comply with Consumer Product Safety Commission and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Additionally, the school system said drainage improvements for the playground area would be made during the closure time.
“Upon completion of this work,” Platenberg wrote, “Stratford Landing Elementary School staff shall provide proper supervision of playground use during school hours… Stratford Landing Elementary School shall report any injuries that occur on this equipment to the Office of Security Services.”
The final provision to keeping the equipment requires quarterly inspections of the playground for safety.
“It’s a leap in the right direction, and we are grateful to Mr. Platenberg for working with us,” said parent Eleanor Whitaker. “There are still some details that we’d like to iron out.”
Specifically, PTA members and school officials had discussed moving up construction plans for a new playground at the school, which could increase the play-time capacity to accommodate enrollment growth at the school.
While PTA members said they are pleased with the results of the playground dispute, they remain concerned about how this purchase will impact future fundraisers.
“The big concern we have now is we’re going out to the community to fundraise. We do a teacher wish list [to buy supplies],” Nellenbach said. “In the meantime, we have this constant reminder on our campus that we spent this money for something that’s not being used now… It’s just very exciting that we can report that most of it is staying… I think this [solution] will help. We acted in good faith and did everything we were told. And I think if you’re looking outside of our school in, it could look like we did something wrong.”
The PTA’s big fundraiser — a silent auction — is scheduled for April 1.