Chances are you played tag on the playground at recess when you were a child. Did you feel emotionally or physically harmed by that experience?
Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle, made national headlines last week when they announced their public schools would no longer allow students to play tag at recess, and then again when the outrage caused them to walk back their decision. But it’s not just Mercer Island, and it’s not just tag. Schools are growing more and more aware of just how dangerous kids have it in a lot of activities, and it’s changing what they’re letting students do.
On Mercer Island the move seemed to come from a well-intended place, with the school district calling for a “hands off,” no touching approach at recesses in order to “minimize negative physical interactions.” The district stated it had seen a couple instances last year of more aggressive play, where the “tag” in question had felt more like a slap. After some virality, the District lifted the ban altogether.
But the matter at hand isn’t settled—nor is it alone. In fact, as The Seattle Times reported back in 2006, this issue has been debated for a long time:
Running at recess was banned last year in Broward County, Fla. In October, officials at an elementary school south of Boston banned tag and touch football. Elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Spokane banned tag during recess. And this past summer, Portland public schools eliminated swings from their playgrounds, along with merry-go-rounds, tube slides, track rides, arch climbers and teeter-totters.
…Public school systems are increasingly afraid of lawsuits from parents of children who get hurt on the playground. That fear of liability and the pressure to prepare students for high-stakes testing have spurred thousands of schools to cut recess and physical education — usually in favor of increasing math and reading instruction.
Additionally, those worries carry all the way through the years. Just this week a Missouri high school announced it was cutting its football team, not because they weren’t doing well (they reached the state championship game only five years ago) but because amongst all the injuries their players endured there just wasn’t enough team members. Only 15 students reportedly even tried out for this year’s football team at the school. Many students reportedly prefer other sports, like soccer.
From the outside both the St. Louis and Mercer Island decision seem illogical; a far-cry from the classic vision of students at play, in desperate need of more physical activity. But for the schools resources to ensure student safety often isn’t there.
“So many player protections — equipment, practice formats, drills, regimens — that are standard in pro and college football are unknown in high school football,” said Terry O’Neil, the founder of Practice Like Pros, a group that advocates safer football techniques told The New York Times. “After all the many excellent rule changes in the last few years, we don’t expect any future rule changes to change the game drastically. Game day will always be dangerous.”
And as the DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog notes, that gap in resources is unfortunately showing itself in the injuries student athletes get:
In the last few years, the number of diagnosed concussions in student athletes has skyrocketed. In a study published by The Ohio State University last year, results indicated that concussion rates of high school athletes more than doubled between 2005 and 2012. “Overall, the rate increased from .23 to .51 concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures. An athlete exposure is defined as one athlete participating in one competition or practice.”
Such a drastic increase reflects the added attention to concussions and concussion symptoms, but also to the effects and frequency of these injuries…Concussions are serious injuries. The effects of concussions are not limited to professional athletes.
Not only are they not limited to professional athletes, but brain injury in growing kids can be even more serious than an adult, with full healing time potentially taking up to two years—or longer.
Schools halting games of tag or football may be ill-received and ill-advised in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hard to argue that they are trying to do the best with what resources they have. Unless something changes, I bet we’ll see more things falling off in the name of safety.