The Mercer Island School District has reinstated the game of tag following an outcry from parents.
After stories about the Mercer Island schools’ ban on the game of tag went viral this week, the school district would like to clarify that, no, it has not declared war on the playground game.
“Tag, as we know it and have known it, is reinstated,” the school district said in a prepared statement Friday.
That reversal came after parents objected to a new “hands off” policy, which required students to keep their hands and feet to themselves at all times, including recess.
Parents first learned about the policy at a meeting with the principal at Lakeridge Elementary, one of the district’s three elementary schools.
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“The new expectation was made with the best of intentions,” Superintendent Gary Plano wrote in a message Thursday to parents and the district community. “Our hope has always been and continues to be an expectation that students respect others’ personal space and respect their individual and unique differences.”
Along with objecting to the ban itself, some parents also were upset they hadn’t been consulted about the change, said Kelsey Joyce, whose two children go to Lakeridge. One parent started a Facebook group called “STAR MI (Support ‘Tag’ At Recess in Mercer Island).” The group had more than 400 members Friday afternoon.
“The kids had been told not to play tag, and I think they were really bummed,” Joyce said. “To be honest, kids get hurt on the playground. It’s an unfortunate part of life, but part of learning and growing.”
They weren’t the only ones upset. The ban, originally reported by local media earlier this week, soon made its way to national outlets like The Washington Post and became a heated topic on talk-radio shows.
The district said there were isolated incidents last year stemming from games involving student contact, where unstructured play “deteriorated into name-calling, fighting and injury.”
At first, the district responded to the outcry by saying that it planned to come up with alternatives to tag.
“We want to initiate a new form of tag-like running games to minimize the issues of ‘you were tagged/no I wasn’t’ or ‘the tag was too hard and felt more like a hit,’ ” Plano wrote Thursday.
On Friday, the district sent out another message, clarifying that tag will be allowed.
Other districts around the nation have banned contact games and, in some cases, balls and other playground equipment, as education officials try to balance safety with playtime, said Jonathan Blasher, executive director of the nonprofit Playworks. In 2006, some Spokane elementary schools prohibited tag over concerns about student safety.
“I think a game like tag is wonderful,” Blasher said. “You can play it almost anywhere, it’s universal. It’s important for kids to have that free-range play, where adults aren’t micromanaging, but there is the need for assurance that the kids have a basic understanding what the expectations are.”
Mercer Island school principals are planning to reach out to parents and staff to ensure everyone understands the expectations for recess games.
The return of tag is good news for Joyce’s children; her son and his friends play four different types of tag, including a version involving a hot-lava monster.
“I don’t even really understand that one, but it’s great they are fostering creative development of thinking,” she said.