Schoolyard Project Makes Comments to D97 Board

The Irving Schoolyard Project (ISP) gave public comment on Tuesday evening at the District 97 Board of Education meeting. Those comments included information related to the rate of schoolyard-related head injuries at Irving and across the District. In addition, while the ISP is committed to continuing to raise money for the project, we asked the Board of Education to consider accelerating the time-line for making improvements at Irving.

If you have questions or concerns that aren’t covered in the statement to the Board, please feel free to contact Jassen Strokosch (jassen@me.com) or Margaret Jeschke (margaret_jeschke@yahoo.com) from the ISP, Laura Crawford (lauracrawford47@gmail.com) from the Irving PTO or Mr. Hodge in the school office. As always, anyone is welcome to attend ISP meetings, which typically take place every Friday at 8AM in the Irving teacher’s lounge. We would welcome any questions or comments at those meetings as well.

Regards,

The Irving Schoolyard Team
irvingschoolyard.com

Public Comment Statement to the Oak Park District 97 Board of Education

by the Irving Schoolyard Project
May 22, 2012

Good evening. Three of us are here tonight to speak on behalf of the Irving Schoolyard Project. Normally we would meet with the Administration and make a more formal update to the Board, but that was not possible and we want to make sure you heard from us in a timely manner for reasons that will be made clear. We want to present some recent, urgent findings and discuss the future of the project.

Since 2006, our role as a PTO committee has been to develop our schoolyard’s master plan, garner community support, and pursue major funding opportunities to the end goal of a vibrant and renewed schoolyard. This initiative was started when overhauling the schoolyards in the District was not even on the Board’s radar.

As of this spring we are at a turning point. We have a master plan for design that includes an investment of dollars and expertise, with input from various stakeholders. We have a working budget. We have solid community support from all around Oak Park, including individual donors and local businesses who do not interact with Irving everyday, but who recognize the value this project brings to the area. We have strong interest from the Park District, a crucial new partner at the table; and we have completed extensive research on grant opportunities.

And there are excellent signs that show the District is committed to providing safe schoolyards where students can learn, exercise and play. We are impressed with how quickly the Administration has been able to move forward with the outdoor projects already slated for construction this summer, with more to come in 2013. The District has shown the highest commitment to safety by finding the funds to make field improvements at Longfellow despite this being an unplanned expense. The architectural landscape plans for Beye, Holmes and Longfellow represent quality planning for outdoor work that brings meaningful change in safety and education to schools. We completely support the improvements coming to other schools and we’re very excited to see this happening.

In order to make a thorough case to potential funders, we recently requested information from District 97 on incidents and head injuries as reported by nursing staff at each elementary school. These medical statistics are new information to our committee. Despite the fact that they confirm everything we have experienced as parents at Irving, we did not know the severity and magnitude of the problem until now. We were astounded to hear the numbers. Ethically, we need to share these data with all of you immediately. We can no longer pursue the project in the same patient manner that we have been doing before we knew of these risks to our children and the potential liability to District 97 that this information poses.

Here is what we have learned:

The following data shows only head injuries that occurred on the playground or blacktop this school year. A “head injury” refers to a student who has struck their head hard enough for the nurse to send home a notice regarding warning signs for concussion symptoms. Head injuries are the most effective method for comparing schoolyard-related injuries as nursing staff are required to document this specific type of injury. In addition, head injuries have the least variation in reporting methods between schools. We have not included injuries such as broken bones and bruises as they are hard to compare statistically.

These numbers are for the current school year and do not include the middle schools. It is important to compare the rate of injury versus the number of injuries because it controls for student population and students who have repeated injuries. The following numbers are the rate of head injury per 100 students.

Hatch has a rate of 0. Holmes has a rate of 0. Lincoln has a rate of 0. Mann has a rate of .78. Beye has a rate of .93. Longfellow has a rate of 1.7. Whittier has a rate of 1.8. And Irving has a rate of 7.5 head injuries per 100 students. You will see a chart of these data in the document we are leaving for you.

This means that when student population is accounted for, the rate of head injury for these schools, not including Irving, is .79 per 100 students. The rate of head injury for Irving is 7.5 per 100 students. Again, a rate of .79 for the district versus 7.5 for Irving.

To put all of this into perspective: In an average school year, there are more head injuries at Irving than in all the other District 97 elementary schools combined.

In other words, Irving accounts for 58% of the head injuries in District 97.

While we have spoken for years about the unsafe conditions at Irving, this was based on common sense and anecdotal information because we are parents. One conclusion that can be drawn from information supplied by District nursing staff, is that most head injuries take place on the blacktop, regardless of the school. Because Irving only has a blacktop, with no alternative play surface, activities that naturally migrate to grass at other schools are simply played in an unsafe environment at Irving. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that Irving has by far the least square footage of play area per student. Activity of any kind happens in the most densely packed play area in the District.

The point is, students are far more likely to become seriously injured outside on school property at Irving than at any other school in the District. This knowledge is new to both us and the board and we need to reconsider our methods.

You have always been very supportive. We have come so far since we started, but we know that this PTO committee is limited in what it can accomplish to finish the project. We can keep plugging along, but if the lion’s share of funding our schoolyard remains the responsibility of our parent group, it will likely take years to accomplish. How many head injuries will happen in that time?

For these past years we have been earnest and confident in our ability to move ahead, knowing that someday we will get there. We have been happy to lead that charge. However, we are now faced with the knowledge that each year it takes us to get there, more children will be seriously hurt. That’s why it’s our responsibility to come to you and not hold up this project while we fundraise. We owe it to our students to give them a safe schoolyard as quickly as possible, not be a barrier to that happening.

It’s only appropriate that now the Administration become the active leader of the project, to move forward quickly, as we know they can, and to be creative and find additional funding where safety is concerned.

We reiterate that we are encouraged by the plans for other schools and by the Administration’s repeated statements demonstrating a commitment to the safety of our students. The Irving Schoolyard Project will continue to work with the District in whatever capacity it feels is helpful, including private fundraising.

We are sure that this board will agree that the safety of our children should not depend on our ability to raise money.

Specifically, we are asking the Board:

  1. To continue to build strong and creative partnerships with the Park District and all other appropriate taxing bodies;
  2. To use our master plan as a basis for design; and
  3. To start construction work by the summer of 2013 as we believe Irving is the highest priority safety concern in the District.

Thank you.

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