Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Parents say students at a southeastern Massachusetts elementary school have invented code names for secret games of tag since school officials banned the game.

Thomas Willett Elementary School in Attleboro also has forbidden touch football during recess, parents say.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said one parent, who wanted to remain anonymous.

The parent said, however, students are still playing the games behind teachers’ backs. “Kids will be kids, right?”

Another parent, who also wanted to remain anonymous, feared repercussions for children if the code names are discovered.

“An unintentional consequence is that the kids are taught to be deceitful now,” the parent said.

The parent said the school did not include the game ban in the handbook. Instead, students found out from teachers and then told their parents about the rule, which the parent says came from the school’s desire to prevent injury and bullying.

Principal Gaylene Heppe declined to answer questions about the specific policy.

“Willett Elementary School has long-established playground rules to ensure the safety of students during our recess time,” she said.

She said staff members supervise students’ games during the 20-minute recess period after lunch.

“It’s important for kids to be able to take some risks because if we try to protect them from every available risk, they don’t learn coping mechanisms,” said Audrey Skrupskelis, board president and national representative of IPA/USA, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to children’s right to play.

“In terms of large-muscle coordination and movement, these are the games that burn calories in terms of the weight kids are putting on,” she said. “Of course, we want to provide a safe environment for our kids, but no one grew up without a scraped knee.”

Tom Varney, director of product management in loss control at the Hartford insurance company, said tag will not significantly affect a school’s liability premiums.

Mr. Varney leads a team that helps clients evaluate and control risk.

“From an insurance perspective, it’s more important for the school to have well-trained staff on hand to supervise and coach, along with rigorous safety protocols,” he said.

Rhonda Clements, author of several books on children’s activities, is a former president of IPA/USA and education professor at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. She called the movement to ban tag “absolutely ridiculous.”

“We’re creating a generation of children that are no longer decision-makers as to their own play activities,” she said. “You’re basically telling children that we don’t trust their ability to play and not lose their temper.”

Miss Clements said children play tag because of an innate qualities of self-protection, adding that such games teach children how to play by the rules.

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