1/19/16 ABSS eyes public use policy

ABSS eyes public use policy
Rules on playgrounds, trails would be aligned between different schools
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 1/19/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education is considering a district-wide policy about public use of school playgrounds and walking trails.

“Right now in our schools we have multiple rules and regulations and guidelines,” said Alamance-Burlington School System assistant superintendent Todd Thorpe. “This would be an opportunity to put us all on the same playing field.”

Playing fields and athletic tracks — where the district spends significant amounts of money for maintenance — would not be open to the public under the policy Thorpe presented to the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education at its January work session.

Under the policy, groups or organizations leasing or reserving school playgrounds and trails would have priority, but also sets rules for less formal use.

“If you’re walking by the playground and you want to sit at a picnic table and watch your kids play, here it is, here’s your opportunity and here’s our expectations,” Thorpe said.

The proposed policy would allow the general public to use playgrounds and trails during the day only and would prohibit smoking — including e-cigarettes. It would ban explosives or weapons — except when specifically permitted by law— fireworks and littering.

“Also this gives us the right to close a playground or walking trail if there is damage done or if we feel it’s not safe,” Thorpe said.

The policy would also exempt the district and the board from liability for loss or injury.

The board’s attorney will review it before any vote.

Open school facilities is a trend around the country with an eye of improving public health and making community ties to public schools stronger.

To build some school walking trails and playgrounds, Thorpe told the board, ABSS is applying for a grant of up to $50,000 from Impact Alamance, a nonprofit organization Cone Health created to fund programs to improve public health often by promoting exercise and good diet. Impact Alamance has committed $215,000 in grants.

While off the topic, board member Tony Rose said the discussion was a good time to talk about the public using facilities at the district’s Career and Technical Education Center where students from all the ABSS high schools take vocational classes, including culinary, computer science, nursing and automotive.

“We had talked several years ago, back when the CTEC center was under consideration, about the possibility of using that resource in the evenings for community members for various things from computer labs, to having Internet access, to teaching some, maybe, continuing education cases through (Alamance Community College),” Rose said. “I like this idea of making this public facility open to the public.”

Kent Byrd, ABSS executive director of secondary school leadership, said ACC would be teaching a course for high-school students at CTEC in the spring, but there were no plans beyond that.