Kensington bans students from playground
Resolution bars children older than 5 in Reinhardt Park during weekday hours
The Town of Kensington formally banned school girls from spending recess at a park near their school following complaints from some neighborhood parents that toddlers were being crowded out of the central town playground.
The resolution, passed Sept. 29, prohibits children older than 5 years old from being in Reinhardt Park between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. The new rule was designed to allow toddlers and their caretakers to enjoy the park, which was being overrun by girls from the Brookewood School that used it at recess, said Town Councilman Mackie Barch. Barch said the girls also damaged swings and trees and left trash on the ground after lunch.
But parents and administrators at Brookewood, a private girls' school that rents space from St. Paul's United Methodist Church, say the move is as Grinchy as the time Kensington banned Santa Claus. The school has moved recess down the street to the county-owned Warner Mansion lawn.
Headmaster Joseph McPherson criticized the "four grown men" on the council, who made the decision absent Councilwoman Mary Donatelli, for depriving the girls of use of the park because of 30 minutes of recess.
"It's like we're breaking all the branches and breaking all the swings and always crowding people out of the park," McPherson said. "It's a bit exaggerated to me."
But Elizabeth Forgione of Kensington said when she would take her three children, ages 1 to 6 years old, to the park, "The (Brookewood) children would come over in large groups and they would take up all of the equipment."
Forgione said often older girls from Brookewood would stand in the infant swings, "so not only could they not be used by my 1-year-old, they would be frequently broken."
Alison Weeda of Kensington also complained to the town.
"It wasn't that I was trying to get rid of them," she said of the school girls, but she had to consistently usher her young children away from picking up trash left at the park, and like Forgione, had problems with crowding.
"I do feel bad for them in the fact that it was taken away from them as well, but it has been an ongoing issue," Weeda said. "I just felt like the adults and teachers weren't really supervising or thinking about the little ones that wanted to just play in the park."
Barch said the town reached out to Brookewood, asking in a Memorandum of Understanding for $4,000 to maintain the park after town parents complained.
McPherson contends the town slipped the MOU "under the office door," but he thought that an unacceptable way to have a dialogue about the issue.
"I've never received a complaint at the school from anyone in the park. We have a telephone and we have e-mail and we have postal mail," he said, but the school, which ran a deficit last year, doesn't have $4,000.
"I'd be willing to say OK, we'll buy 60 bags of mulch at St. Paul's mulch sale, or hey, we'll rake up the black walnuts that people trip over," McPherson said. "We already send groups over to do trash pickups."
Mayor Peter Fosselman said the MOU was delivered twice, as well as a letter notifying the school of the complaints in March 2008, which the school responded to in writing. The letter and other supporting documents were provided to The Gazette.
"We have tried to work this out," Fosselman said. "The town remains open to working with the school but we were left with no choice."
School officials may have had warning about the problem, but Michelle Delaney of Wheaton said her first-grader Fiona was disappointed when suddenly her teachers explained she couldn't use the park last week.
"I think she was a little sad about that at first," Delaney said. "I'm very disappointed in it. I think the way it was done was perhaps not the best way it could have been done."
Fosselman said if parents were surprised it's Brookewood's fault.
"It's not our job to regulate student behavior," Fosselman said. "That's really the school's fault then for not communicating with parents."
Jaynee Acevedo of Kensington has a 14-year-old at Brookewood, where older girls get free reign of the block at lunch, but said she doesn't understand how recess and open lunch could be taking up all day use of the park.
"It seems extreme. I didn't know it was possible to have taxpaying citizens' children banned from a taxpayer-funded park," Acevedo said. She said the rule also seems impossible to enforce.
"Are they going to hire a patrol? Is the onus on the police? Are we now going to have card-carrying toddlers? Are we going to check who's 5 and who's 6 and who's 4-and-a-half and who's 8?" Acevedo asked. Acevedo said any method of enforcement would likely cost more than $4,000 for "overuse."
Acevedo said fostering discussion between Brookewood parents and those of toddlers could have been a learning experience for everyone.
"Call a meeting, look for a collaborative solution," she said. "That's what adults do."