Port School Board Scrambles to Justify Recess Ball Ban After Media Blitz
School district officials offer contradicting explanations of recent recess hardball ban at Weber Middle School.
That describes the actions of Port Washington School District officials who used two completely different explanations to justify a controversial recess ball ban at Weber Middle School that has garnered national media attention during the past five days.
The incident was first reported by Patch last week after a tip from a Weber student prompted clarification on Oct. 4 about an unpublicized rule change initiated by the school principal which outlawed the use of some hardballs by students at recess.
Repeated requests to Port Washington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Mooney to clarify specifics of the situation at the middle school were not returned by Mooney to Patch last Friday.
Instead, Weber Assistant Principal Matthew Swinson, seemingly unfamiliar with the situation, was ordered by district officials to field questions.
"What we've noticed is that we've had a lot of kids in the nurse's office because of being inadvertently hit," said Swinson, describing the main reason for the rule change. He further explained that hard footballs and lacrosse balls were banned from the schoolyard.
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Safety, not education, is listed as the number one priority at Weber, according to the district website.
Swinson said safety concerns prompted school administrators to authorize the use of tennis balls or Nerf footballs in place of the banned hardballs to protect students from errant throws during the recess period.
Under heavy media scrutiny from national outlets, school district officials struggled to explain the situation consistently this week.
A message on the school district website Tuesday contradicted the statement made by Swinson last week:
"The district is nearing the end of a construction project at its middle school. Because of the construction project, there is a limited space for the students to enjoy a 20-minute recess period. With children in such close proximity to each other, it is not safe for them to be engaged in unstructured play with hardballs."
At a school board meeting at Schreiber High School Tuesday, Superintendent Mooney modified the school district's position further from previous statements by saying the hardball ban was "temporary."
In the lengthy phone interview Oct. 4 with Patch, Swinson made no mention of school construction work, limited space or the word "temporary" to describe the recess rule change.
For the first time in nearly a week of questioning, Mooney publicly stated Tuesday the need to be "perfectly clear" in describing the ball ban.
"Once the construction project is completed and the field is restored, the recess time period at middle school will be restored to its usual practice," said Mooney at the school board meeting.
Also at the school board meeting Tuesday, Patch asked Superintendent Mooney why she did not personally clear up any misconceptions regarding the Weber ball ban when asked by Patch to clarify the situation last week.
Answering for a nonresponsive superintendent, school board President Karen Sloan stepped in and requested that Patch submit the question in writing.
No specific date was given by Mooney or Sloan as to when a response to the question could be expected.
"She will try to respond to you in a very timely fashion," said Sloan.
Do you agree with how the school district has handled the situation? Tell us in the comments section.