A tug-of-war is happening at Stratford Landing Elementary School in Virginia between school officials and parents, and not the fun kind. The issue? Playground equipment.
The Stratford Landing Parent Teacher Association raised the $35,000 needed for a cool new playground through silent auctions and bake sales. They proceeded to purchase the necessary equipment and hire a contractor for the playground while working with the Fairfax County Public Schools facilities department. But when the playground was finally complete, the school system deemed the equipment too dangerous and declared it off-limits. The brand-new playground proceeded to sit behind yellow caution tape for months.
Parents argue that the same equipment—a futuristic-looking Evos system by Minnesota-based playground equipment manufacturer Landscape Structures—is currently installed at more than 1,200 parks and schools around the country, including a public park in Fairfax County. But the school officials say the equipment does not meet FCPS safety standards and that they wish to avoid potential lawsuits should a child become injured. One particular complaint? An obstacle in the equipment set is 10 inches higher than the school systems allows.
Allowing the current equipment to remain at Stratford Landing would be setting a new standard, school officials say. “How could we deny another school or PTA the same playground equipment if we allowed it?” one official asked. The FCPS has offered to revamp the Stratford Landing Playground using $135,000 from the county. But parents say this an unnecessary cost at the taxpayer’s expense when they have perfectly acceptable equipment already installed.
“This is a litigious society,” Dean Tistadt, the former Fairfax County Schools’ chief operating officer and assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation, said. “If someone gets hurt using this equipment, the PTAs aren’t getting sued, we are. They seem to be emotionally invested into this apparatus and they think we are being overly bureaucratic and overly intractable and overly cautious, but they aren’t the ones who would be in court and they don’t have the same safety expertise as we do.”
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