Wichita schools to ban all inflatables

Starting next school year, inflatable slides and bounce houses — longtime staples of field days, fundraisers and after-prom parties — will no longer be allowed at Wichita schools.

"Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, we will no longer support the use or rental of inflatables at all," said Darren Muci, division director of operations.

The decision by upper-level administrators was prompted by a fatal fall last month at a Wichita inflatable amusement facility, Muci said.

Five-year-old Matthew Branham died March 22 after falling from an inflatable at Pure Entertainment, near Kellogg and Tyler, and striking his head on a concrete floor. Police and national safety officials are investigating the case.

Muci said the district would honor contracts for school functions this spring but will require a "written safety plan" to be signed before each event. The plan, which is still being developed, will require companies that rent inflatables to ensure that the units are properly inspected, anchored, operated and supervised, he said.

"We felt that because we had contracts in place, we could do our best to make them safe and require the vendors to take an extra step," Muci said.

Some owners of local inflatable ride companies, meanwhile, lamented the district's decision, saying it was unnecessarily sweeping.

"I'm sorry to see it," said Jay Jones, owner of Kids Fun USA in Wichita. Since 2004, Jones has pushed for tougher regulations of inflatable amusements, including regular, random inspections.

"Inflatables, depending how they're run, can be very, very safe or very, very unsafe," he said. "I would welcome the chance to sit down (with district officials) and talk with them and show them what we do.

"I couldn't live with anyone getting hurt, or worse. But... we were just kind of lumped all together based on one incident that never should have happened."

Last week, the Wichita district removed Moonwalks For Fun Inc. and its subsidiaries, Affordable Moonwalks and Kansas Inflatables, from its list of approved vendors. Moonwalks For Fun, owned by Duane Zogleman, holds licenses for the equipment used by Pure Entertainment.

On Monday, administrators — which included the district's chief attorney and risk manager — discussed the topic at their regular meeting and decided to issue the ban, Muci said.

"We feel it's the right thing to do, to eliminate them," he said. "We have a responsibility for the kids left in our charge to make sure we provide a safe environment for them."

Inflatable obstacle courses, slides and bounce houses have been popular at school carnivals and other events for many years, Muci said.

Some are funded by schools to reward students or celebrate accomplishments; others are financed by parent-teacher organizations or booster clubs as part of after-prom or graduation parties. Often, school groups rent inflatables to lure families to fundraising events such as school carnivals.

Ruben Hernandez, owner of Party Bounce Rentals, said the Wichita district's ban will likely cut into his business.

"I can't blame anybody for wanting to keep kids safe," he said. "I just wish we'd have a chance to sit down and talk with them about ways to do that."

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