Tagged Out: Massachusetts School Bans Playing Tag
Tag is now out during recess at Willett Elementary School in Attleboro.
So is touch football and any other unsupervised "chasing" games that are deemed to pose the risk of injury as well as liability to the school.
"It's a time when accidents can happen," said Principal Gaylene Heppe, in her second year at the helm of Willett.
Heppe included the new rule as part of a standardized set of playground rules that were not in play upon her arrival.
In doing so, she joined in a growing movement against traditional games played by young children in school gymnasiums and playgrounds. A few years ago, school administrators in the area, as well as around the country, took aim at dodgeball, saying it was an exclusionary and dangerous game. Modified versions now include softer balls and ways for children to re-enter the action.
While no district-wide policies banning contact sports at recess appear to have been put in place locally, many principals are making up new rules in an atmosphere reflecting society's increasingly cautious and litigious nature.
Elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyo. and Spokane, Wash. banned tag at recess this year. So, too, did a suburban Charleston, S.C. school, outlawing all unsupervised contact sports.
Reasons cited by school administrators largely focused on safety; kids would get too rough or run into each other, giving rise to parent complaints and threats of lawsuits. Another reason cited was that in a free-for-all activity at recess, such as tag, some children would become unsuspecting, and unwilling, participants in the game.
A number of those same schools, however, allowed those activities with supervision during gym classes.
Some Willett School parents interviewed for this story said the new recess rules are misguided, especially with the serious issue of childhood obesity. Others said they work against children developing skills to negotiate rules and resolve disputes.
"I think that it's unfortunate that kids' lives are micromanaged and there are social skills they'll never develop on their own," said Debbie Laferriere, who has two children at Willett.
"Playing tag is just part of being a kid," she said. "Now, for children not to be able to make those decisions by themselves without interference from adults doesn't give them the opportunity to make their own choices."
Games like tag give children "social skills that transfer to later in life," she said.
Parent Christine McAndrews agreed.
"I think it's a little bit silly," she said, adding that she was not aware the rule was in place. "The kids love to play pick-up football games that they organize themselves. It's great for their social skills and they resolve things on their own. It's good for them."
"It's part of being a kid," she said.
Willett parent Celeste D'Elia, on the other hand, backed Heppe's decision. Her son, she said, feels safer and enjoys the alternatives to throwing a football around.
"I've witnessed enough near collisions" in the playground area, D'Elia said. "I support anything that makes the playground safer and helps teacher to keep track of them."
Calls to a handful of elementary schools in this area revealed that principals are dictating the rules of play at recess, but the rules differ.
David Barner, principal of Thacher Elementary School in Attleboro, said there is no outright ban on tag, touch football or other such games during recess at the school.
"We do have discussions at the beginning and throughout the school year about rules so that students play appropriately," he said.
The physical education teacher plays a large role in instructing children on how to play games, he said.
Matthew Joseph, new principal of Hyman Fine Elementary School, also said there's no prohibition of contact sports at recess. Teachers and others, however, are trying to redirect children from physical games to those that involve teamwork. There is also an effort to get children using the new playground the PTO installed and a new field. Team games, like kickball, are encouraged, he said.
Mary Brown, principal of the Solmonese Elementary School in Norton, on the other hand, doesn't consider tag a contact sport.
"We play two-hand tag on the shoulder" which is supervised, she said. "No pushing is allowed."
Tag football is also allowed for third-graders, if supervised, Brown said.
Of course, she noted, "you have to have someone out there young enough to run around with them."
George Gagnon, principal of Falls Elementary School in North Attleboro, said playground rules have swung a different direction since he started there four years ago.
Tag, touch football, soccer, "they can play all that," he said. That wasn't the case before he arrived.
Gagnon's philosophy is, "I'd rather see them running around, getting fresh air and coming back in refreshed."
He feels children are "trapped" in organized sports like football, hockey and baseball. Running around outside at recess, kids make up their own games with their own rules and resolutions, Gagnon said.
Accidents occur "every couple of days," he said. "But kids run and fall --- that's kids."
Staff writer Rick Foster contributed to this report.
SUSAN LaHOUD can be reached at 508-236-0398 or at email@example.com.
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