After a dozen local track users expressed their dismay earlier this month about new restrictions over field use, the school board voted unanimously Tuesday to slightly modify its policy.
With their vote, they rescinded restrictions that barred the public from the track for 30 minutes before or after school, but left in place rules that went into effect Jan. 1 excluding the public from exercising on the track during school hours.
Even so, the district policy makes no specific mention of the track, but simply regulates general use of school facilities and grounds, delegating to the superintendent responsibility for prohibiting any use inconsistent with school purposes, and stipulating that: “Any use which occurs at any time 30 minutes before or after or which occurs during a scheduled instructional day or involves a facility scheduled for a school sponsored co-curricular activity are [sic] presumed to be inconsistent with the use of the school facilities or grounds for school purposes.”
Board members, too, seemed troubled by the vague language of the policy and signaled their intent to revisit the issue again.
Several residents reiterated points they raised at the March 8 meeting. Peter Navarro repeated that for 60 years the campus remained open to the public without a major incident and appealed for another public hearing to pursue alternatives. Ceil Sharman, speaking on behalf of several track regulars, said they were willing to “abide by any rules” or security measures that would satisfy administrator’s safety concerns. Leslie LeBon questioned why track users, mostly seniors and mothers, are considered a safety threat.
Board member Betsy Jenkins expressed empathy for residents who rely on the school’s rubberized track for its health benefits and accessibility. She asked board members to approve lifting the policy’s public access restriction on a half-hour at either end of the school day to give the public an additional hour of track use.
Ensuing deliberations made it clear that the wording of the policy left room for ambiguity as to when the public is actually permitted on the track.
Board member Jan Vickers questioned the policy’s restrictions as would-be track users would be turned away as late as 8 p.m. since students are often still present at that hour participating in after-school sports practices. Board member William Landsiedel asked whether an event at the Artists Theatre, for example, meant the track was off limits.
Ambiguities aside, the board reached a consensus about the need to restrict the public’s use of the track for the safety of students. In the meantime, board members asked administrators to post signs for the public to clearly indicate school hours, with additional signs posted to announce upcoming activities that would restrict the public’s access to the campus.
Despite the school’s safety record, board president Theresa O’Hare said her research showed that no other campuses are open. The issue is to prevent incidents, not react to them, she said.
“Betsy’s motion is a good compromise,” said O’Hare, who expressed compassion for the residents who use the track. “It shows the board does want to work with the community.”
Jenkins urged protesting residents to not lose sight of the facility’s foremost purpose. No one, for example, would consider any part of elementary campuses as suitable locations for public recreational activities, she said.
O’Hare said the school district staff is already overtaxed and lacked the manpower to consider alternative security measures suggested by residents.
“For me, it’s a very easy decision,” said O’Hare. “It’s a school first.”