City closes playgrounds at multiple schools, parks over safety concern

Eaton Elementary School is located at 3301 Lowell St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

When D.C. students returned to school this month, some were faced with closed fields and playgrounds. According to Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, various outdoor facilities — both school play areas and public parks — recently failed the city’s shock absorption tests and are shuttered until the situation can be rectified.

A complete list wasn’t available as of The Current’s deadline yesterday, but a representative of Cheh’s office said that it included outdoor areas at Janney, Eaton and Mann elementaries and Wilson High. Some Department of Parks and Recreation facilities are also affected, though Cheh’s office didn’t have a list available. Affected locations may have use restrictions or be closed off entirely.

In a letter sent last Thursday to several D.C. officials, Cheh blasted the lack of information on the closures. She said her office had been seeking information on shock absorption or “g-max” testing for more than a month, yet only heard about the closures anecdotally from parents and school staff.

Cheh’s letter requests a complete list of affected locations, their estimated reopening dates, the District’s plan to address a failed or inconclusive test, and what alternative play areas exist at each affected park or playground.

At the same time, Cheh is also raising concerns about the continued use of synthetic crumb rubber infill on playgrounds. As part of the council’s budget act for the 2018 fiscal year, a ban on that material will take effect Oct. 1 due to safety concerns about its absorption, heat and possible chemical leaching. According to Cheh, the D.C. Department of General Services is rushing to install a similar material at Janney before the end of September.

“We have to ensure that our children are safe at school, and that includes the buildings and grounds they occupy,” Cheh wrote in a statement to The Current. “Questions have been raised about the danger of using crumb rubber on fields and, until those questions are resolved, we have to err on the side of health and safety. That’s why we voted for a moratorium on the use of this substance.”

In a Monday letter, Cheh threatened to pursue emergency legislation to prevent installation of such material at Janney and to remove any that had already been installed.