SF school politics keeping kids from having any fun

(Examiner file photo)(Examiner file photo)

(Examiner file photo)(Examiner file photo)

Writing about San Francisco often brings letters from outsiders with the shared sentiment questioning whether I am making stories up.

Things like banning Happy Meal toys and “meatless Mondays” — you know, stuff we make laws about here.

So please understand that the following is true. At a place called Playland at Ocean Beach, there once was a ride called the Record Player that involved a giant, sanded disk that revolved at high speeds. People, maybe 20 to 30 at a time, would race to the center of the disk and hope for the best, because once the ride started, those that got left outside were sent flying off through the inertial effect known as centrifugal force.

Think about it — a giant round top that sent people sliding at impressive speeds, thudding into a padded wall. Do you think in our newly fashioned, politically correct world that any insurance company would back such a concept today? The folks at State Farm would be doubled over.

I raise this not out of a growing sense of nostalgia, but because some things that we, as youngsters, used to take for granted have been removed from the landscape. And the world is not a better place for it.

Simple things, such as school yards and playground equipment.

We can be thankful that there are forces (not centrifugal) that would like to return them to our midst — even if it reminds us that they shouldn’t have been taken away in the first place.

This weekend, Supervisor Mark Farrell hosted a fundraiser for a program called Community Hubs, a plan first launched a few years back. According to Hydra Mendoza, the school board president, the idea was to reopen at least one schoolyard on weekends in each of the 11 supervisorial districts.

My children are grown now, and I haven’t needed to use a schoolyard playground in years. Yet when they were smaller, access to schoolyards was never a problem. But at some point, some wizened official at the school district made a decision that it would reduce the organization’s liability and probably save a few pennies if they closed the sites on weekends. (I’m not making this up, either.)

Yet since having 11 schools open on a weekend barely makes a dent in the amount of play space that could be available for families, Farrell decided to raise money privately so that wider public access would be returned. The money will be used to hire people to unlock and then lock the gates at the schools and make sure the yards as are as clean as they were left. (I’m not making this up, either.)

“I came into this because one day I was looking for a place to take my kids bike riding, and we went to the nearby school and it was chained shut,” Farrell said. “I called the school district and I was told that they have been closed to the public for years.”

Farrell said the latest schoolyard initiative is designed to open up as many sites as possible beginning next year. I’d like to think one parent at each school could do this voluntarily on rotating weekends so thousands of dollars don’t need to be raised for another cause, but I’m out of the loop on this one.

But if they did that, they would have even more money left over to have to pay for recreation and physical education programs at the schools on weekends, which is what Farrell and Mendoza said is the part of Community Hubs they really want to add. That’s why the Recreation and Park Department is part of the group trying to make sure that the plan takes flight.

Just imagine — children playing basketball, soccer, tennis. Riding bikes on long, smooth concrete (which you can’t find on our streets). Maybe swinging on some monkey bars, assuming they still exist. I know they allegedly have accident-free slides now, but I always thought that the threat of imminent danger was a part of growing up.

Still, if it’s successful, they might just get back some of those things most people thought should never go away.

You won’t find the Record Player in that mix. But I’m almost certain a picture exists to show you I didn’t make it up.

Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner. Email him at kgarcia@sfexaminer.com.

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