Parents say school fence poses security risk
  Richard Weizel, Register Correspondent       February 17, 2001

ORANGE ó Parents of about 200 kindergartners at Mary L. Tracy School told the school board this week they are concerned a 4-foot fence around the playground is not high enough to keep their children safe.

PTO Playground Committee Chairman Tony Vitti told the school board parents want the chain-link fence raised to 6 feet to prevent 5-year-olds from climbing over it or being grabbed and taken by a stranger.

Town and school officials say they are trying to work out a cooperative agreement in which the town, school board and PTO would evenly share the $4,500 cost of raising the fence.

In a statement presented to the board, the PTO says it is important that the fence be higher because "the playground borders the Town Hall and Fire Department parking lots, making it very visible and accessible to strangers.

"There are also not enough adults to monitor the fence consistently and children have a tendency to lean against it, making them easily accessible," the statement says.

"In addition to the high volume of strangers constantly in the parking areas, the children are easily accessible to non-custodial parents and other family members or friends," it says.

Parents also contend the availability of teachers to supervise children is limited, with the ratio of adults to children in the playground as high as 1 to 40.

The PTO asked the board to find money in its budget to raise the fence, and, if not, to allow the PTO to raise the funds.

Chairman Glenn Pearson said while he sympathizes with the parentsí concerns, he doesnít think the board has enough money left in the current budget to pay for even a third of the cost of a higher fence.

"It may be that we could do something in next yearís budget, but Iíve been told there isnít any money to do it this school year," Pearson said. "But weíre going to see what can be worked out."

Pearson said one possibility is that the PTO could pay for the fence now and be partly reimbursed by the board after the new fiscal year begins in July.

First Selectman Mitchell Goldblatt said the town would probably be willing to foot the bill for one third of the cost.

"I know the Mary L. Tracy PTO is very concerned about this, and we want to do everything we can to ensure the safety of children in that playground," he said.