Policies vary on daytime citizen use of school tracks and fields

Should outside athletic facilities be open to the public during school?

Should a school’s track and other outside facilities be accessible to the public during the school day? Last week the Barnstable School Committee tabled a policy on such use while the community further ponders the topic.

Many adults enjoy walking or running on school tracks, playing on school tennis courts or using other parts of a school’s outside athletic facilities. Indeed, many find the schools to be safe and clean places to participate in such activities. However escalating security concerns are causing some school districts to re-consider when the public can access their outdoor facilities.

This is a somewhat different issue than the kerfuffle over the Sandwich High School swimming pool some years ago, which involved citizen use of school locker rooms at the same time as students. The issue on the table this week is strictly about using outdoor facilities without access to locker rooms or other parts of the school buildings.

Last Thursday we polled all other Cape Cod school districts to learn about their policies concerning use of outdoor athletic facilities.

As of Sunday morning, we received responses only from Falmouth, Bourne, Mashpee and Dennis-Yarmouth. We present their statements below, exactly as submitted.

Falmouth Public Schools

Superintendent Dr. Bonny Gifford submitted the following statement:

Falmouth does not have a policy specific to community use of the facilities during school hours. We do have a policy relative to facility use which requires paperwork and permission. This policy does state no use can interfere with school programs, events etc.

With that said, our practice has been to not allow people to use facilities during school hours. We are not considering making any change to this practice at this time. This has not come up in Falmouth.

Bourne Public Schools

Superintendent Steven Lamarche submitted a statement by his Athletic Director, Scott Ashworth, which is as follows:

“I have been in the PE Department and the Athletic Department since January 1992. This has never been a problem or concern. We have given permission to military personnel to conduct PT sessions on the track during the day and at most that I can remember maybe three people have been walking on the track at any given time. People walking the track have always been respectful and we have been able to amicably coexist on the track.”

Mashpee Public Schools

Statement of Superintendent Brian Hyde:

Does your district currently restrict use of outside facilities, such as tracks, by the public during the school day?
For safety reasons, Mashpee does not allow the public to use athletic fields, tennis courts, etc. during the school day. Last year, we denied a group of Falmouth senior citizen tennis players who had been playing at Mashpee High School during the school day. They were great, but if we opened up the school property to one group we would have to open it to all and did not believe that this was in the best interest of our students. Cars driving around the school could also create a safety hazard. I believe that Barnstable is smart to manage their facilities in the best interest of the student body’s safety. Leaving the facility open to anyone who wants to use it creates a hardship for school administrators.

Is the district considering any change in policy regarding such use?No, Mashpee schools are for the use of Mashpee students during the school day. After hours and weekends, the public must apply for and receive use of facilities permission from our DPW who manages all town properties.

Dennis-Yarmouth Regional Schools

Superintendent Carol Woodbury’s response:

We have not prohibited community use during the day. Our track is at the high school and when our students are using the track for H/PE or practice, we "encourage" the public not to use it. During the school day, we sometimes lock the main entrances and leave the access from Regional Avenue open. As you might imagine, while we are very security conscious, we also try to share resources with the community.

At our elementary schools we encourage use at times other than our recess period. All in all in my ten years I have not had any reported problems.

More to come?

Sandwich, Monomoy, Nauset, Provincetown and the two technical high schools have not yet responded to our query. As we hear back from those districts we will pass their statements along, as well.

This is a complex, emotional issue that pits public access against contemporary school safety protocols.

You can add your comment and/or opinion below.

We invite letters to the editor ([email protected]) or guest editorials by those qualified to speak for a school or a group of taxpayers.

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