A twist on a tired maxim has the Snow Creek Parent Teacher Organization justifiably riled. The PTO built it, and the wrong people came.
For nine months, the PTO worked with Snow Creek Elementary School Principal Ken Grindstaff on plans to purchase and install a playground on the Penhook campus. Spending the length of a pregnancy on a $3,500 project seemingly would provide sufficient time to get it right. But no.
Two weeks after the PTO installed the new equipment — featuring rope swings, a climbing wall and a cargo net — the maintenance crew came. And what remained of the playground came down.
These unfortunate events were the latest in a series that began unfolding with Grindstaff’s Aug. 21 letter advising the PTO that he lacked “full authorization” for the equipment. Superintendent Mark Church said the playground did not meet national safety standards.
“The equipment purchased,” Grindstaff wrote, “though fine for home use, was not designed for rigorous school usage. … Using the playground as constructed could present a safety issue for our students.”
So, officials decided, the playground would be deconstructed and sold at a bus auction.
This understandably displeased school PTO President Heather Badger.
Officials showed “no desire to work with us to get the proper attachments,” Badger said, “but rather threaten[ed] confiscation and auction.”
A day before maintenance workers arrived, parents dismantled all of the equipment that was not bolted down. The PTO will seek the return of part of its money. But some equipment — including portions purchased to specification — cannot be returned, Badger said.
Church and Grindstaff say the PTO followed all proper channels leading to the playground’s purchase and installation. Plainly, the administration cannot say the same for its part. This leaves the PTO in a fine mess.
“We don’t know how much we will be able to get back in our costs,” Badger said, “and it is very sad for our school.”
No one disputes the importance of safety. More than 200,000 children 14 and younger are treated annually for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rates are highest among children 5 to 9. More than 10% are affected by traumatic brain injury.
Once administrators realized their error in failing to ensure the playground met national safety standards, they had no choice but to act. However, they erred in this, too.
Three points are critical. First, school officials need to ensure the fulfillment of the PTO’s objective in providing a playground for Snow Creek Elementary. Officials have pledged to do this. Doing as much could make the PTO whole on its investment. Second, officials need to ensure practices are established to obtain proper authorization before projects like this proceed. Third, officials need to ensure stronger, clearer communication between district officials and the PTO in circumstances like these.
Grindstaff rightly commended the PTO and parents for their hard work. Parental involvement in the modern educational milieu is no given. Those who step forward, as these parents did, deserve better.