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New Milwaukee Schools Must Now Contain Outside Play Areas

The Milwaukee Common Council approved an ordinance last week that requires all new elementary schools in the city to either provide on-site outdoor play areas or transport students somewhere off-campus to play.

The on-campus outdoor play spaces must have at least 75 square feet of space for each child using it, should accommodate at least 20 percent of the schools' students, and must have an energy absorbing surface (such as sand or mulch) under any climbing equipment, swings, and slides, according to the terms laid out in the ordinance. The measure also prohibits schools from placing concrete or asphalt under or near climbing equipment, swings, or slides.

"To combat the epidemic of childhood obesity and high rates of diabetes, this legislation is providing an opportunity for all children to take part in physical activity during the school day," said Alderman Michael J. Murphy, the primary sponsor of the ordinance, in a statement. "Academic research has shown a direct correlation between healthy minds and strong bodies. Now is the time to ensure our children have access to a healthy and active lifestyle."

Schools that wish to pursue the off-campus option with outdoor play spaces must submit in writing a plan describing where and how students will be transported and supervised. The off-campus play space must meet all of the on-campus play space requirements, in that there must be at least 75 square feet of space per student, the area must be free of hazards (such as railroad tracks), and must be concrete- and asphalt-free around climbing equipment, swings, and slides.

The Milwaukee department of city development will have 30 days upon receiving an off-campus outdoor play space request to either approve or deny the plan.

Originally, the ordinance did not offer such an exception, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which drew the ire of a voucher-school advocacy group, School Choice Wisconsin.

The group lobbied against the original measure, arguing that it could hinder successful schools that didn't have room for an on-campus outdoor play space. In a July 17 statement, the organization claimed that "some of the city's highest performing schools serving low-income children would not have been able to open or expand had this ordinance been in place."

Once the exception was introduced into the ordinance, the Common Council approved it unanimously last Wednesday, 15-0.

Currently, Wisconsin state law only requires day care centers to have outdoor play areas for children. One of the major supporters of the original ordinance wants to see the state implement the same requirement for elementary schools, according to the Journal Sentinel.

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