Inclusive playground decision tabled

Published 9:32 pm Monday, September 24, 2018

The Inclusive Play Project was met with resounding support during Thursday night’s School Board meeting, but an official decision was not made regarding its fate.

“I certainly support the idea of an inclusive playground, and I think it is much needed,” said Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney. “I think the challenges at Northern Shores Elementary School are the size of it, the attraction of it and the maintenance and upkeep of it.”

The rest of the Suffolk School Board was supportive of having the playground, but they said they needed more information and to work out kinks before voting.

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Most of their questions revolved around the success of existing inclusive playgrounds, more community input and what maintenance and upkeep will look like.

The Inclusive Play Project is a group of parents, community members and therapists that want to renovate the Northern Shores Elementary School to provide an all-inclusive playground for students of diverse abilities with donated funds.

Whitney has had informal conversations with Suffolk’s City Manager Patrick Roberts regarding the project, he said.

“If you talk to the city manager, he may have some suggestions and other sites that are close by other available land,” said Vice Chair Phyllis Byrum.

Currently, only parents with children at Northern Shores Elementary have spoken in favor of the project to the School Board, and the board members hope to receive more community input.

While the placement of the project can be up in the air, if the playground ends up on school property, there is a possibility of shared responsibilities between the school division and the city.

According to Whitney, the city manager has also suggested having a joint-use agreement regarding the maintenance and upkeep to be split between the school division and the city.

“He sees this as something we can have joint ownership in,” Whitney said. “This is attractive to me.”

While a decision wasn’t made, parents involved with the Inclusive Play Project made sure to voice their support and show the need for a new playground.

“Having an inclusive play project in our community is an amazing opportunity and we are so fortunate this began this year,” Suffolk resident Kaitlyn Fleming said. “Having this built at Northern Shores is a visible symbol of what we value — respect, diversity, kindness, education and love.”

Northern Shores Elementary Library Media Specialist Michelle Sowerby spoke in favor of the playground, and she spoke from personal experience of feeling left out in school because there were no resources to help her feel included.

“I had a hard time as a child. I walked and ran differently. As a child, it hurt to be left behind, and I would come home and practice what others were doing. My only advocates were my mom and dad,” Sowerby said. “No child should be excluded, and this would be a shining piece for Suffolk if we are able to have abled and differently abled students that can play together. Think seriously about not letting this golden opportunity slip through your hands.”