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Michael Zwaagstra

Safety regulations vs. common-sense

Safety first, common sense last. That seems to be the motto when it comes to public schools these days. Earlier this month, the principal of Earl Beatty Public School in Toronto sent a letter to parents informing them that hard balls such as soccer balls, volleyballs, tennis balls, and footballs were now banned from school property.“Any balls brought will be confiscated and may be retrieved by parents from the office. The only kind of ball allowed with be nerf balls or sponge balls,” explained the letter.Although the Earl Beatty principal’s decision is extreme, it is typical of the lack of common sense in public schools. Such an overarching emphasis on student safety makes little allowance for any activity that involves some level of risk and results in nonsensical decisions such as the one described above. The trend toward safer but blander school playgrounds reflects an obsession with safety. Most adults today probably remember playing on the merry-go-round and teeter totter when they attended school. Unfortunately, these devices have been removed from most playgrounds over concerns that they are too dangerous. Swings, slides, and monkey bars have not been spared.  While they still remain at some schools, they have been redesigned to be safer and more boring.The exaggerated emphasis on safety has unhealthy consequences.  A recent article by psychologists Ellen Sandseter and Leif Kennair argues that experiencing moderate levels of risk and danger helps children overcome their natural fears. These psychologists suggest that we can expect “an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.”There are legitimate health concerns. The focus on safety also affects what students may eat in school. Given the prevalence of allergies to peanuts among students, many schools have been declared “nut-free.” In these schools, parents are told to… Read More