Parents call for safer playground for students with autism at Lamar Elementary


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Washington County parents say Lamar Elementary School’s playground isn’t safe for students with disabilities.

Rose Jennings and Chelsea Bowling both have children with autism, a condition they say comes with safety challenges.

Brooklyn Jennings, 7, and Parker Bowling, 5, attend Lamar Elementary School. Their parents worry the playground there isn’t safe for students with autism.

“My child is what they call a runner,” said Jennings.

“He sees no danger, he’ll run off into the road,” said Bowling.

The students were recently moved to Lamar from Grandview Elementary, where a grant funded a new fenced-in playground that both parents considered more accommodative.

The parents want a fence to be installed around the playground at Lamar. They also hope the school can add more accessible equipment.

Currently, students with disabilities have the option of playing in a separate, fenced-in area.

“There’s really nothing for him to play on, it’s just area to run and I mean that’s good as well but he should have a right to play equipment just like other children,” said Bowling.

Lamar Elementary has a separate play area for students with special needs.

Washington County’s Special Education Director Mindy Myers said they have safety protocols in place to supervise special needs students on the main playground.

“We always make sure that we have enough staff making sure that these students are safe,” she said. “If we have students with individual needs who we’re afraid may wander off or run off, we develop specific plans with the child’s team at the school.”

These plans alone don’t give Jennings and Bowling peace of mind.

Myers said the district conducts school safety assessments annually at the start of the school year. “With those assessments, funds become available and we have used those funds in some areas to fence in playgrounds,” she said.

“If it’s determined that a fence is needed to keep that campus more secure, whether it’s the playground more secure or the entire campus more secure, that would come from our safety grant money,” said Washington County’s Teacher Evaluation and Licensure Supervisor Jarrod Adams.

Adams said the money could also come from a PTA fundraiser or a community donor.

He estimates installing a fence alone could cost $5 thousand.

“I’m hoping we may get some supporters to build a fence and build these kids a playground,” said Jennings. “It’s not just for my kid, it’s for all the other handicapped kids that need somewhere safe to play.”

News Channel 11 reached out to multiple Washington County School Board members by phone.

Mary Beth Dellinger, Chad Fleenor, Jason Day and Annette Buchanan said this is the first they’re hearing of this concern.

They said they’d be willing to look into funding options but raised concerns about budgetary restrictions.

“I think anything we can do to increase safety is a no-brainer,” said Day. “But I do know we’re struggling in every avenue on funding.”

“We’re constantly cost-restricted but we’d definitely like to accommodate them,” said Fleenor.

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