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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Swing sets becoming scarce on school playgrounds

Swings, once the emblem of school playgrounds, are slowly disappearing, with only two swing sets remaining in Washington’s second-largest school district.

Students at Hamblen Elementary School frequently ask Shelley Redinger, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools: “We’re being good on our swings. You’re not going to take them away, are you?” she said.

More than 200,000 children show up in hospital emergency rooms each year due to playground equipment injuries, according to the National Safety Council. Fewer than 20 of those accidents are fatal, but swing set danger has come to the forefront after a 7-year-old girl in Vancouver, Washington, died last week within days of falling off a swing during recess.

Swings are becoming less common on school properties throughout the country for liability reasons and because school officials are looking for new ways to engage students in activities using safer equipment.

Spokane Public Schools began removing swings from playgrounds more than 20 years ago and has two swing sets remaining – at Hamblen and Moran Prairie elementary schools. Madison Elementary School students play on the swings in adjacent Franklin Park.

Swings are unsafe for several reasons, said district spokesman Kevin Morrison: There are six swinging objects in a confined area with lots of other children running around; there are lots of “pinch points” caused by metal links; and kids can fall or jump off of them.

“There’s no denying they are dangerous,” he said. “There are a lot of other fun things to do on the playground.”

Space is the main reason the district began removing swings two decades ago, said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent.

“I wouldn’t say they have a higher liability than other toys,” he said.

Richland School District in the Tri-Cities has been removing swing sets from elementary school playgrounds for eight years.

“Kids aren’t buckled into swings, so they fall and hurt themselves,” said Mark Panther, executive director of support services. But the decision to remove them had as much to do with aging equipment as liability, he said.

Many school districts are switching to new playground equipment that’s safer, featuring dense foam padding underneath that helps to break a fall.

Other Spokane-area school districts are sticking with swings.

Mead School District, north of Spokane, still has swings on its elementary school playgrounds.

Central Valley School District has two to four swing sets at each of its elementary schools, the kindergarten center and Summit School.

“We don’t have any plans to make any changes with swing sets in our schools,” spokeswoman Melanie Rose said.