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When Principal Turns Playground into Parking Lot, Kids Get Punished for Playing

When Principal Turns Playground into Parking Lot, Kids Get Punished for Playing

Cars and a children’s playground: these are not generally two things you would want to have sharing the same space. Yet at the Lafayette Street School, an elementary school in Newark, New Jersey, the principal is having teachers park in the school’s playground, as Barry Carter writes on

With about 34 cars parked in the parking lot, the school’s 1,100 students have limited, and little, space to exercise and play during recess at a potential cost to their learning.

Some students have been disciplined when they’ve leaned on cars; they are not supposed to run between them. As one parent, Ada Caro, says to Carter, “they [school officials] give more importance to the cars than the kids. They shouldn’t be penalized for using the playground because cars are there.”

Even without cars, the Lafayette Street School playground (pictured on is not an ideal spot for kids to play in. The part of the playground that students do have available to play is not the safest due to cracks in the surface, some patched unevenly with asphalt.

Principal Maria Merlo contends that teachers need to park in the playground so they won’t be late for work due to having to find a parking place. The school is located in the heavily congested Ironbound, an area of Newark with tight and narrow streets. Indeed, the practice of school staff parking on playgrounds occurs at other schools in the Ironbound but, Carter notes, those schools have larger playgrounds than Lafayette Street School does.

Parents of Lafayette Street School students have consulted with the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation group that has renovated other Newark school playgrounds; an architect has sketched out some plans. East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador has also contacted Merlo and the Newark school district about alternate parking possibilities: creating a special zone so school employees could park with impunity on the street; making more parking permits available; letting teachers park at a nearby parking garage at reduced rates.

While Amador contacted the principal and the district in back in November, he says he is still waiting for an answer beyond the district saying it is “aware” of parent concerns.

Teachers have unfortunately been caught in the middle and, as Carter writes, are not saying anything as “they don’t want to get in trouble.” The school district is not allowing Merlo to comment about the parents’ complaints that she is “not supportive.”

With the situation in limbo, and the cars still in the parking lot, some parents have started a petition and collected more than 300 signatures to demand a new playground. A few painted a hopscotch board on the school grounds last weekend so their kids could have something to play on.

More than a few studies have found that activity can enhance students’ performance and even help to improve their grades. A 2010 review in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that physical activity can help to increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain and also to provide “boosts in hormones such as norepinephrine and endorphins which help improve mood.” Kids need time to play and hindering their opportunities to do so can affect their work in the classroom.

Of course, teachers need a place to park their cars. But as parent Maria DaSilva-Pineda says, it’s the students’ needs and learning that should be a “priority.” An elementary school playground that looks like a parking lot (because it is being used as one) sends a clear message about what the school considers important and shows that it is not (contrary to what the school’s own website says), making students its “first priority.”

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12:25AM PST on Dec 1, 2014

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9:56PM PST on Jan 29, 2014

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8:51PM PST on Jan 17, 2014

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2:10PM PDT on Jun 22, 2013

Catch 22..Kids need to play and teachers need a close place to park. There much be an answer somewhere...

5:11PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

Thank you.

3:50PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

Thank you for the post as public awareness leads to action and change. Children must have a safe place to play during recess.

2:42PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

I understand the teachers need a place to park, but then give the kids games they can play without being hemmed in by the cars- like tetherball, or board games, or a thick mat to practice tumbling moves...

2:03PM PDT on Jun 12, 2013

well great teach the kids to play around cars, play in the street, walk into traffic, cause accidents. fantastic idea brought to you by jaywalkers everywhere. ok parking is unavailable. its a city, you chose to live in that congested hellhole! why aren't the parents students&teachers seeking relief from the town?! make it their problem&work together on a solution. is there a parking garage&a shuttle perhaps? rotating acess to spots. could the city give the school street spaces? maybe ask a homeowner for 1 spot or a lawn? I don't know the area but generating suggestions is the way to brainstorm for a solution.

11:12AM PDT on Jun 12, 2013


7:52AM PDT on Jun 10, 2013

Root of this problem is no-one mentioned in this story- it IS actually motor vehicle corporations and their cronies Big oil. They insist on an automobile-dominated usa.
Interestingly, many cities -even in usa, and including Honolulu- used to have trams...but as oil and motor corps. grew in power, out went tram tracks, paved over with horrid asphalt.
In Europe or Japan, this would be a non-issue, because public transportation is vastly superior, and using it carries no social stigma. No doubt someone will point out petrol is more expensive too., making driving more like a luxury. But in usa, big corps. want people to feel driving is a necessity.

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