Education

Some Wichita residents ‘heartbroken’ over fences around school playgrounds

Wichita resident Monica Marks expresses her displeasure about the school playgrounds being fenced and brings a stack of signed petitions of other parents opposed to the fencing during a Board of Education meeting at North High Monday. (July 23, 2018)
Wichita resident Monica Marks expresses her displeasure about the school playgrounds being fenced and brings a stack of signed petitions of other parents opposed to the fencing during a Board of Education meeting at North High Monday. (July 23, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

Fences will continue to go up around Wichita elementary school playgrounds, officials said Monday, but so far there’s no plan to lock the gates or limit access after school hours.

“There was not, nor has there ever been, a recommendation to lock district playgrounds,” Wichita school board president Mike Rodee said.

After the fencing is installed — likely by the end of the calendar year — “we will consider whether any further discussion is warranted about accessibility,” Rodee said.

Several residents who live near school playgrounds or recalled spending time there urged board members to keep playgrounds open to surrounding neighborhoods.

Monica Marks, who lives near Gammon Elementary School at 32nd North and Woodlawn, said she collected about 100 signatures from neighbors who don’t agree with locking up the school playground.

“You are putting 7-foot paramilitary-style fences right up against other fences in neighborhoods, and the public didn’t even know about it until the vote had already taken place,” she said.

In May, the Wichita school board voted unanimously to spend $231,000 to add fencing around elementary school playgrounds, citing security concerns and costly repairs after two playground fires.

Terri Moses, director of safety services for the Wichita district, said her staff hoped to deter vandalism on school grounds and ward off items that could pose a danger to students, such as discarded syringes or drug paraphernalia.

Over the past several weeks, fences have gone up at several schools, raising the question of public access to playground equipment, soccer fields, basketball courts and green spaces after school hours.

Some school playgrounds — including one at Adams Elementary near Ninth and Oliver, where fire damaged playground equipment last year — already are fenced and locked.

Ann Seybert, who lives near Gammon Elementary, told board members she was “heartbroken” when she saw a chain-link fence going up around about five acres of green space in her neighborhood.

“Our kids grew up in that field . . . walking dogs, flying kites,” Seybert said. “To have that fence go up, we were just completely blindsided.”

Vernette Chance said she lived near Price-Harris Elementary School in east Wichita — formerly Harris Elementary — when her children were young. The family had a small yard, she said, so they walked to the school playground often.

She said her son and a friend set up a telescope in the school playground one evening because it was wide open and away from trees and traffic.

“There are things happening on those school grounds you don’t know about — and they’re good things,” she said.

K. Dallas Mapes, who lives in the Cottonwood Villiage neighborhood near Gammon Elementary, said some neighbors will no longer be able to pull boats into their backyards because the new fence limits access to the alley behind their homes.

“Five acres of my neighborhood was ruined two weeks ago,” Mapes said. “Children are upset. I don’t know anybody on my block who isn’t upset.”

He said locking school playgrounds because of a few incidents of vandalism wouldn’t be fair to the majority of children and families who use and enjoy them.

“If you lock up those fences 80 percent of the time, children are going to be pissed at you,” he said. “I’m going to be furious, and I’m going to think about wire cutters, just like all my other neighbors have talked about doing.”

In a written statement that he read prior to the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, Rodee, the board president, said board members did not plan to discuss playground access at the meeting.

Early Saturday, playground equipment at Adams Elementary was set on fire by vandals. Terry Manning, principal, speaks about how the students are handling it. (Video by Brian Hayes / The Wichita Eagle/Jan. 9, 2017)

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