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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Schools turn sticklers with tag

Madison Elementary School Principal Brent Perdue keeps an eye  on students  Wednesday  during a game of circle tag. His school has also set rules for games such as four square and hopscotch to reduce bickering.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Madison Elementary School Principal Brent Perdue keeps an eye on students Wednesday during a game of circle tag. His school has also set rules for games such as four square and hopscotch to reduce bickering. (The Spokesman-Review)

Tag, you’re it. No, you’re out. But not completely out.

Adams Elementary School in Spokane drew national attention earlier this month for telling parents and children that tag as they know it was no longer acceptable at recess.

“Due to the increase in student injury, fighting, and bullying reports, tag is an activity that will not be played during free play recess time,” Adams Principal Mary Perrizo-Weber wrote in a note to parents.

Tag moved from the free-for-all recess time to a P.E. class that uses Nerf balls to avoid student-to-student contact.

Perrizo-Weber’s decision made it on a local news channel, and the story evolved into one of those quirky tales that ran on TV stations around the country. “A principal bans tag,” is how it was billed.

“My sister called from Minnesota to tell me she saw me on TV,” Perrizo-Weber said. “It wasn’t a big deal in this community at all. … I’ve gotten some pretty nasty e-mails from around the country.”

Members of her family teasingly said they were buying her a shirt that said, “You’re it.”

What got lost in the story, Perrizo-Weber said, was how second- and third-graders were not feeling safe at recess when a pack of other students would run over, smack someone and yell, “You’re it.” She found 6-year-olds with zipper marks on their necks from having their hoods grabbed during tag.

Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Brian Benzel said, “We know that we (as a district) are often the target for torts and claims.”

Benzel said the solution Perrizo-Weber used at Adams was “elegant.”

“Recess in itself is one of the places where we have to be very careful,” he said. “Kids can get injured.”

It’s not like the ‘50s.

“The world has gotten more complicated,” Benzel said. “It isn’t the informal world of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s the legalized world of 2006.”

Adams Elementary isn’t alone. Over the years, other Spokane elementaries have put restrictions on tag – though it went largely unnoticed in the outside community.

Madison Elementary has also asked students not to play tag as a free-for-all. Instead, they play what the school calls “circle tag,” which is played around yellow circles painted on the playground. The player who is “it” cannot leave the circle while trying to tag players outside the circle.

“It’s not so much that tag is a problem, but when you play it in a large area in the playground with 100 kids,” it can become one, said Madison Principal Brent Perdue.

It’s not just tag. Perdue’s school created rules for games such as four square, wall ball and hopscotch, because most playground conflicts came from arguments over how the games are played.

Mary Seeman, principal of Spokane’s Franklin Elementary, allows tag and even snowball-throwing, as long as rules are followed.

Tag can only be played with rip-away ribbon belts traditionally used for flag football. Snowballs can only be thrown at easels set up at the edge of the playground. Students used to throw snowballs at a plywood clown, but “we need to have a new one made,” Seeman said. “We cannot find the doggone clown.”

Karen Cowan, Spokane Public Schools coordinator of K-12 health and fitness, laments the changes. She has little authority over principals’ decisions to safeguard their playgrounds.

“Do we want children to do free running on the playground at recess? I would. I want them to run and play and laugh and be excited about movement,” Cowan said. “I think having a lot of restrictions is sending a very mixed message to kids.”

Being active comes with the occasional accident, Cowan said.

“I think it’s unfortunate we can’t allow kids to move. It’s a different day and age.”

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