CLINTON — A group of Clinton parents were encouraged last August, when the school board expressed interest in a proposal to upgrade the district’s playground surfaces. But, now they feel the plan was passed by in favor of other projects.
The school board voted last fall to spend more than $2 million to upgrade the high school football complex.
Parents of disabled students raised the issue of the Douglas School playground in 2021. They met with the IEP (Individualized Education Program) team at that time.
In 2022, new accessible playground equipment was installed at Lincoln School, but the non-accessible surface remained. Loose, ground rubber or wood mulch surfaces are typical of most playgrounds.
In August 2023, families approached the school board about addressing the need to replace those surfaces with materials that would allow children with disabilities to more easily use the playgrounds at the schools.
One of the parents, Tyler Smith, sent a letter to school board members this week expressing his frustration. He said he felt the proposal failed to go any further in spite of it being initially well-received by school board members.
Smith wrote in his letter that the cost estimates appeared to put the brakes on the plan.
“Communication was, ‘maybe 2025,’ and then silence.”
The Clinton Journal reported the school district received bids of about $750,000 to resurface the school playgrounds. Board president Dan Matthews, at that time, expressed his surprise the number was higher that he expected.
"The board of Education has no plans to take up the issue of playground renovations for the 2024-25 school year," Matthews told the Journal. "We have two quotes for laying down the rubber playground surfaces on all three playgrounds that would cost the district anywhere from $730,000 - $1.05 million. That cost would not include having to install new playground equipment at Douglas because it would not make sense to put down a new surface without replacing that equipment. "
Matthews also said that, in the past year, and during this upcoming summer, the district will have spent approximately $3.6 million on the CHS kitchen renovation and the heating and cooling and electrical work at CHS that will take place this summer. The district facilities plan already has a number of capital projects planned that would be done ahead of any playground renovations.
Smith’s son uses a reverse walker to get around, and uneven surfaces are a challenge for him, Smith told the Journal. Smith said the playground at Clinton Elementary School has a loose, wood mulch surface and was not accessible nor ADA compliant.
“School playgrounds do fall under ADA, and the district’s playgrounds are not compliant,” Smith said.
“The department of justice and department of education both provide ways to file complaints against ADA violations.
Smith’s son is afraid of falling in the wood chips.
“The uneven surface is physically taxing to get through and scary because unlevel surfaces make him feel unbalanced, Smith said. “Because of all of this, he stays away from the playground during recess.”
Ground, rubber chips pose the same hazard for Smith’s son. He said and adult aide would often assist his son navigate the rubber chips to get to the play equipment.
“But, we couldn’t help feeling he was missing out, he did not have the same access as his peers; he could not follow and play independently,” Smith said.
Smith cited other parks that are more accessible, such as Harmony Park, Bloomington.
“We’ve seen the sense of freedom and independence that he has on an accessible playground, and we wanted him and other children like him to have that same feeling every day at school.”
Smith said his wasn’t the only local child who could benefit from better playgrounds. He added, inclusivity wasn’t just about the playground surfaces but about overall playground designs.
In his letter to the board, Smith offered the results of his research into refurbishing the playgrounds and suggested parents, the school board, teachers and the community work together to achieve the plan. He added he hoped a plan could be in place to upgrade the playground over the summer before the start of the 2024-2025 school year.
“Sometime in 2025 is not good enough,” Smith told the Journal. “For us, it would mean that our son would be in his last year at CES and would have missed an opportunity at equal access and inclusivity during recess for a majority of his childhood, when it is most important.”