Sarah Wolf Testimony – DCPS SY2021 Budget Hearing

Sarah Wolf, Peabody Elementary School 

Testimony to the DCPS Public Budget Hearing, October 29, 2019

Good evening Chancellor Ferebee and Deputy Chancellor Maisterra

My name is Sarah Wolf and I am the parent of a kindergarten student at Peabody Elementary School. I have been a DC resident since 2003 and currently live in Ward 6. I am also a member of the Peabody School Improvement Team, which was set up in September 2019 to address safety and maintenance concerns on the school playground.

Peabody is the early education campus of the Capitol Hill Cluster School in Ward 6. It educates 226 students in grades PK3, PK4 and Kindergarten. Peabody is a diverse school that draws students primarily from the Capitol Hill neighborhood: 81 percent of students attending are in-boundary. Eight percent of students are economically disadvantaged and five percent have special needs.

In 2018, when our son Roman was offered a PK4 spot at Peabody through the DCPS lottery we were delighted. Peabody prides itself on providing a joyful learning environment for kids ages 3-6 years old. The school is a bright, cheerful place decorated with kids’ artwork, the teachers are kind, and the program provides a gentle introduction to school life. My son loves it.

So, you can imagine my shock on the first day of school, at dismissal, to see Peabody staff attempting to drive out of their parking spaces in a playground full of little children. The situation struck me as potentially dangerous and not at all in keeping with the safe, supportive learning environment that Peabody endeavors to provide.

Over the course of the last and this academic year, I, along with other parents, have witnessed many close calls between kids and cars. The school has a policy of “honk and freeze.” The teachers honk their horns, the kids are supposed to freeze. However, we have seen kids completely ignore the honk and instead of freezing, run straight towards the moving car. We have witnessed kids obey the honk and freeze but freeze behind a car that is backing up. We have seen 10-12 cars that are double parked, maneuver through a busy playground with parents and caregivers trying to direct traffic and kids still run in front of cars. We have helped cars to back up, only to see a three year old on a tricycle ride behind the cars. In all cases, accidents were avoided due to the efforts of parents and drivers working together to keep kids safe. But other times, it was pure luck that the child running behind the car did not get hit. These close calls are too frequent and put our children in an unnecessarily risky situation. 

Playgrounds were established to provide a safe place for kids to play that is free from cars. I cannot believe that if the city were designing a new playground today, they would place cars within it with no barriers or fencing to separate the kids. The Mayor’s Vision Zero Initiative seeks to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians. I find it inconsistent that the city focuses on pedestrian safety on the way to and from school, but once at the school site, there are no such safety or traffic measures in place.

In addition to parents worrying about keeping their kids safe from cars, the playground itself has become over the years, unsafe. There are three main problems that are leading to injuries including scrapes, bruises and broken bones.

  1. The playground surfacing includes blacktop, poured rubber and wood chips. The blacktop and poured rubber have uneven surfaces, gaps and sinkholes, and provides insufficient padding in some places, especially under ladders. A week ago, a Peabody parent reported that her four year old daughter tripped on the surfacing and fell onto the corner of a picnic table getting a black eye. The same week, a four year old Peabody boy fell off a ladder and badly scraped his forehead. Another Peabody parent says her PK3 and Kindergarten kids come home almost every day with scrapes on knees and elbows from falling on the blacktop.

  2. The playground equipment is between 15-25 years old and no longer meets current safety standards. One structure in particular (orange/blue) is not age appropriate for students who are three and four years old — who are the majority of Peabody students.

    According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook, monkey bars are not intended for children ages three or younger, and for children ages four and above, the structure should be no higher than 60 inches. The Peabody monkey bars are 77 inches in height. A Peabody parent reports that in 2017 her four year old daughter fell off the monkey bars and fractured her elbow. A three year old boy also fell off the same monkey bars and had severe bruising. His mother says the only reason he didn’t break his arm was because he is such a tall and heavy child. The same handbook says sliding poles should not be used in playgrounds for preschool students. The Peabody playground has three sliding poles measuring between 85-100 inches in height. In 2017, a five year old boy fell off the pole and broke his elbow in two places. He had to be hospitalized and had three pins inserted into his arm.

  3. In addition to the equipment not meeting current safety standards, the equipment itself is old and not well maintained. The coating on the play structures is peeling off, exposing rust and creating sharp edges that poke into kids’ hands. For awhile, yellow safety tape was put up on the chain climbers. It seems to have been removed yet the sharp edges remain.

In summary, the playground is in need of an overhaul.

In 2013, Peabody received funding for Phase 1 Modernization under the 10-year DCPS School Modernization Plan. The Education Spec included renovating floors and ceilings, improving lighting and electrical, and upgrading IT, water lines, service lines and HVAC systems. The playground was not included.

I understand that DCPS has abandoned the phased modernization process and now uses the PACE model to prioritize schools for modernization. Given Peabody’s current rank of #30 (out of 32) on the modernization priority list, we would not receive full modernization funding until at least 2024 but likely many years later as there are higher priority schools. However, I am aware that outside of modernization funding, there is a city-wide Capital Improvement Plan as well as stabilization funding available to address repairs of school buildings and athletic fields.

One solution to the car safety problem would be to create a daytime school parking zone under the law that was passed last year. We are working with our ANC Commissioner and gathering data to submit a formal request. Another solution is to redesign the Peabody site to include separate spaces for cars to park and for kids to play. There also needs to be an interim solution that does not rely on children ages 3-6 to be always conscious of cars. The playground is supposed to be space for kids to play, exercise their bodies, and stretch their imaginations without worrying about moving cars. We cannot wait for an accident to happen.

I, representing the Peabody community, urge the Education Chancellor to address the Peabody safety concerns in the next DCPS budget. 

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