Port School Board Scrambles to Justify Recess Ball Ban After Media Blitz

School district officials offer contradicting explanations of recent recess hardball ban at Weber Middle School.

Port Washington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Mooney listens in at a school board meeting st Schreiber High School. Oct. 8, 2013. (Credit: Rich Jacques)
Port Washington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Mooney listens in at a school board meeting st Schreiber High School. Oct. 8, 2013. (Credit: Rich Jacques)
If at first you don't succeed, try again.

That describes the actions of Port Washington School District officials who used two completely different explanations to justify a controversial recess ball ban at Weber Middle School that has garnered national media attention during the past five days.

The incident was first reported by Patch last week after a tip from a Weber student prompted clarification on Oct. 4 about an unpublicized rule change initiated by the school principal which outlawed the use of some hardballs by students at recess.

Repeated requests to Port Washington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Mooney to clarify specifics of the situation at the middle school were not returned by Mooney to Patch last Friday. 

Instead, Weber Assistant Principal Matthew Swinson, seemingly unfamiliar with the situation, was ordered by district officials to field questions. 

"What we've noticed is that we've had a lot of kids in the nurse's office because of being inadvertently hit," said Swinson, describing the main reason for the rule change. He further explained that hard footballs and lacrosse balls were banned from the schoolyard.

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Safety, not education, is listed as the number one priority at Weber, according to the district website

Swinson said safety concerns prompted school administrators to authorize the use of tennis balls or Nerf footballs in place of the banned hardballs to protect students from errant throws during the recess period.

Under heavy media scrutiny from national outlets, school district officials struggled to explain the situation consistently this week.

A message on the school district website Tuesday contradicted the statement made by Swinson last week:

"The district is nearing the end of a construction project at its middle school. Because of the construction project, there is a limited space for the students to enjoy a 20-minute recess period. With children in such close proximity to each other, it is not safe for them to be engaged in unstructured play with hardballs."

At a school board meeting at Schreiber High School Tuesday, Superintendent Mooney modified the school district's position further from previous statements by saying the hardball ban was "temporary."

In the lengthy phone interview Oct. 4 with Patch, Swinson made no mention of school construction work, limited space or the word "temporary" to describe the recess rule change.

For the first time in nearly a week of questioning, Mooney publicly stated Tuesday the need to be "perfectly clear" in describing the ball ban.

"Once the construction project is completed and the field is restored, the recess time period at middle school will be restored to its usual practice," said Mooney at the school board meeting.

Also at the school board meeting Tuesday, Patch asked Superintendent Mooney why she did not personally clear up any misconceptions regarding the Weber ball ban when asked by Patch to clarify the situation last week.

Answering for a nonresponsive superintendent, school board President Karen Sloan stepped in and requested that Patch submit the question in writing. 

No specific date was given by Mooney or Sloan as to when a response to the question could be expected.

"She will try to respond to you in a very timely fashion," said Sloan.

Do you agree with how the school district has handled the situation? Tell us in the comments section.
Dave Sattinger October 11, 2013 at 02:00 PM
NT...I don't get your point? The Weber student was frustrated and spoke out. Are kids not entitled to this? Clearly there was frustration about the situation. Our schools should be fun, encourage risk taking and compassionate when mistakes are made. Maybe there's a bigger issue there? Safety is one thing, intimidation and forgetting that kids like to have fun are another. How would Port Schools handle this incident that ended in a horrible tragedy? http://engineeringevil.com/2013/10/10/boy-15-kills-himself-after-facing-expulsion-and-being-put-on-sex-offender-registry-for-streaking-at-high-school-football-game/ ‘Remember to smile, don’t be afraid to do something goofy and remember the consequences of those actions, ask for help when you need it, ask for help if you think your friends need it if you don’t know what to do, be quirky, be happy, be smart,’ she said. RIP
John Golder October 11, 2013 at 02:11 PM
@ Mr. Jaques: You say: "I printed what was said, fair and accurately.", and yet my own reading of what you said and how you said it caused me to conclude that you made a controversy where there was none. My conclusion was reached from reading the above reportage. You chose to interpret the statements from school officials as being in conflict, yet when I read them even as quoted by you, your claim that the statements conflict is not borne out. Different reasons are given in different responses at different levels of detail. You choose to cast that as statements in conflict, indicating bad actions or motives on the part of the school officials, and that they should be subjected to some scandal as punishment. I am sure that you did not like the way you were treated in response to your questions, but this is where professional journalists exercise their professionalism and good judgment. They are able to distinguish between their own pique at any perceived slight, and what a reasoned search for truth and accountability really involve. I am sure you think that you were practicing responsible journalism, but it certainly appeared to me that you fell short. It didn't help the appearance that you had manufactured a controversy that you were then able to get it picked up by The View and national media outlets. You can't have it both ways, you can't both be a reasonable reporter of good judgment AND gin up what really isn't a controversy to further your own self promotion, and expect to keep the mantle of objective, truth-seeking journalism. You should have save your outrage and your ammunition for a real controversy. Now, the next time you publish a story, I will have to wonder whether you are trying again to make something out of nothing simply to get it picked up by national outlets. This is how self promoting journalists like yourself diminish the power of the Fourth Estate, which we sorely need right now. Got it?
John Golder October 11, 2013 at 02:30 PM
@ Dave Sattinger: Part of what I object to is vilifying the BOE and school officials and subjecting them to national ridicule over something that is not worthy of controversy. A President of the USA covering up a politically motivated break in at the Watergate hotel? That's a worthy controversy, full steam ahead. But to impugn improper motives or malice to public officials where it really isn't warranted actually hurts all of us, not just the officials involved. A simple playground decision subjects you to national ridicule? These people are trying to do their jobs. Just because you disagree with a decision, or don't like the fulsomeness or timeliness of a response to your questions, doesn't warrant the treatment given here. You might wonder why good hearted, capable people don't want to serve on the BOE, or in the Superintendent's chair. It is because of silly things like this, and the lack of civility in the way we treat each other and our public servants. Accountability, YES, but the effort towards accountability has to be reasonable, and at some level of basic respect for those who put themselves on the line to serve us. This entire episode demonstrates lack of judgment and objectivity on the part of Mr. Jaques, and a lack of civility on the Patch.
Dave Sattinger October 11, 2013 at 02:44 PM
I do not see how his original story was misleading at all, or how the parent's opinion matters? http://portwashington.patch.com/groups/schools/p/nerf-footballs-only-for-weber-students-at-recess It reads simply about the facts. The story we are commenting in this space is after he was denied access to any follow up after the story broke. There's no "gotcha" journalism here. The ban was instituted, read over the speakers in the school, and confirmed by the Asst Principal. The fact that it went viral was because in part because of the frustration over this policy being instituted without consultation with the parents or community, and there was no mention of the ban being temporary. The defensiveness of Dr. Mooney was evident to anyone is attendance at the Board Mtg, and the fact that she declined repeated requests from Mr. Jacques, led to this follow up story. The response was the Press Release that suddenly stated this ban was temporary after it was viral. You really need to focus on the timeline of the events. Many parents would never have found out about the ban without the story, and we became National News because of the failure to communicate or comment. We still don't know the truth, do we?
John Golder October 11, 2013 at 02:53 PM
@Dave Sattinger: You could "focus on the timeline", or you could put things in proper perspective. It is the duty and the right of the school officials to make decisions about safety on school grounds. The so-called failure to communicate could have been the result of school officials not giving the matter more of their attention than it deserved, and perhaps they used good judgment in not subjecting a routine decision about activity on school grounds to a public referendum. I, for one, do not want school officials "consulting" on every routine matter, while critical things are not addressed. This episode should make national news only for the unreasonable way it has been reported and the lack of common sense or reasonableness about how it has been discussed on the Patch.
Dave Sattinger October 11, 2013 at 03:08 PM
John, say what you will, but I disagree, and we can leave it at that. There was nothing wrong with the article, and it struck a Chord Nationwide. As the parent of a Weber student, he's been frustrated at recess. When I asked him what he did at recess he said "play with dirt, there's not enough of the balls to go around." Kids want to run, play and have fun. It struck a nerve in this community and around the country. Therefore it is "news". Somehow you think it's the reporters fault is silly. Obviously people cared. Now whether there are more important issues we can be discussing regarding our schools is another matter entirely. I would surely like to see a story on the annual budget report discussed as I referenced earlier in the comments. That certainly deserves coverage too. As well as the fact that the Administration clearly has not been forthright about this policy, or the retroactive change in the policy after it went viral. Accountability, honesty and trust matter. You too can't have it both ways. You demand people be involved, and then chastise them for wanting to know answers and the facts when they do. Clearly they misread how the public and parents would feel about this, or maybe they just hoped it would go away. It didn't. If they would just admitted that, it would probably have gone away with the simple correction they made. Instead they went underground, misled, denied comment thereby eroding trust in what could have been cast as a minor mistake.
hank ratner October 11, 2013 at 04:17 PM
With all respect to those who are posting their comments about the school and in particular the school board, how about getting involved at coming to board meetings. You might be surprised on what is going on and how "business" is being conducted.
John Golder October 11, 2013 at 05:09 PM
@ Dave Sattinger: The original story was misleading because it claimed that the explanations given by school officials were in conflict when it doesn't actually appear that they were. I object to Mr. Jaques manufacturing a controversy to promote himself as a journalist and subjecting our school officials to nationwide public ridicule when the issue doesn't deserve it, and any responsible fact finding would make that apparent. If you think that's OK, you are entitled to your opinion. I just would like Mr. Jaques to not try to gather national attention at our expense, and I would like you to think harder about how you engage in public discourse.
tj October 12, 2013 at 06:35 AM
truly a different breed over there........And now the laughing stock of the world and known as raising pampered wimps..
Richard Sussman October 12, 2013 at 06:53 AM
funny comments coming from "Nassau Taxpayer" when his comments are most often factual wrong and is trying to only serve his purpose. I really had a good laugh with his 35 students per class comments. The sad part is some take his comments to be true. He refuses to even identify himself.
Archie Bunker October 12, 2013 at 08:53 AM
Lets see if this interest in the BOE continues to the April / May timeframe when it really counts
Dave Sattinger October 12, 2013 at 09:49 AM
@ John, I just don't see your point, but I would like to understand. The ban was never elucidated as temporary by anyone when reported in the original article "Nerf Footballs Only For Weber Students at Recess" It read factual. The District was pushed for comment, and the only reason was for the rash of injuries. Finally, after going viral, there was a spirited campaign and Press release to suggest that the ban was always meant to be temporary. It's hard to believe that is the case, and I think it's reasonable to want to know if that's the case. Weber's student government was now only elected by the Student Government club, instead of by the Student Population. The Code or Conduct page lists "Safety as the number one priority."While hugely important, it seems like education should be a part of the first statement made. http://www.portnet.k12.ny.us/site/Default.aspx?PageID=1763. The dress code sounds intimidating, and encourages little individuality. http://www.portnet.k12.ny.us/cms/lib6/NY01001023/Centricity/Domain/291/DressCodeStudentLetter2.pdf A new security system and Security guards, on the school district dime, now parole the campus, when we're one of the few towns with our own Police Force. So I think it's very fair to start asking some questions about the environment we are creating, and what our dollars are being spent on. Especially considering we have some overcrowded classes and have had to cut programs.
Arguendo October 12, 2013 at 10:08 AM
"A new security system and Security guards, on the school district dime, now parole (sic) the campus, when we're one of the few towns with our own Police Force." Absolutely startling that you raise these issues in the aftermath of Columbine, Sandy Hook and other mass casualty school incidents. Beyond the obvious -- EDUCATION -- child and staff safety ought to be the number one priority.
Dave Sattinger October 12, 2013 at 10:20 AM
Arguendo, I'm not saying that security isn't important, in fact I wrote above," While hugely important". I'm suggesting taxpayers only have so many resources available. I like the Security system, I question whether or not the PW Police should be helping to parole the schools, considering our budget constraints and that we are violating our own class size protocol. I question whether we are creating an atmosphere of conformity that is counterproductive to self expression, risk taking and fun. That's also hugely important to a healthy educational environment.
Arguendo October 12, 2013 at 10:38 AM
The word you are looking for is "patrol", and the coverage on Campus Drive is primarily private security. PW, Sands Point and NC PDs provide cover for the outlying elementary schools. I don't understand your argument on "conformity". If you have seen the sorts of creative, exploratory and research activities that go on in the district schools, at all levels, it's hard to find any loss of "risk taking and fun." If you meant no lacrosse sticks at recess, there never should have been any, since the activity cannot be sited properly or adequately supervised by a coach ensuring the use of protective gear. That is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and there is ample evidence of local parents willing to pull that lever -- warranted or not -- in either case, the district would have to defend the suit, which consumes more tax dollars. The class size issue at numerous schools, as mentioned by others, elsewhere on patch, is clearly an issue worthy of attention with the administration.
Richard Sussman October 12, 2013 at 10:57 AM
Very funny mr nassau taxpayer, what part do u expect people to believe. There is too much misinformation spread by those that refuse to identify themselves
Dave Sattinger October 12, 2013 at 11:02 AM
"The word you are looking for is "patrol", and the coverage on Campus Drive is primarily private security.'" Why not change that? I agree we've been the beacon of creativity, my concern is that may be changing. Of course you need to be smart. No lacrosse sticks makes sense, perhaps hard baseballs too. etc...But it's the top down nature of the changes that are disturbing, with lack of input and community discourse. No tag or cartwheels? No General Student elections or government? get your clothing inspected? I'm not sure this promotes an open educational environment, as we add layers of non-educational costs.
Richard Sussman October 12, 2013 at 11:05 AM
While the class size issue is important do not believe posts here that are just false. Port has one of the lowest staff to student ratio in the United States. Sure you can say some (very very few) classes are 35 students but their are reasons for it. Of course it would be greatly reduced if the teachers taught 5 classes instead of 4 but our school board gave that away in contract negotiations. Education does not seem to be a priority over the years and neither does safety. They were supposed to address safety by having cameras and intercoms and all entrances on a prior bond issue. Why was that eliminated ? So we can pay door monitors? Why was there many safety violations during the major construction last bond issue and I'' sure if I look I can find them now as well, but the district does not want knowledgble outside people looking at it?
My Taxes Are Too Damn High October 12, 2013 at 01:08 PM
give them nerf balls ... why risk a injury or a lawsuit and see our taxes go even higher
Dave Sattinger October 12, 2013 at 01:35 PM
^^ Because society can't be held hostage by litigious profiteers. What's next, we're not going to let kids walk or ride their bikes to school as they might get hurt? Eliminate science experiments that might lead to a burn? No wonder people are laughing at us Nationwide. Tag and Cartwheels are fine. B days are ball days, and your parents need to sign a waiver that's on file if you want to play in that area, or you go to the non ball side of the playground or Library. With that logic we will eliminate Basketball in gym, and the Baseball Club entirely. Field Trips...No way, not unless you have 4 paid security guards accompanying the kids. There are better common sense solutions available and people need to be a part of the process. We need to be smart as a community, and not base decisions based on liability fear. That's the path to increasing line items for security and legal departments that will cost you more tax dollars, as education suffers.
hank ratner October 12, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Nassau Taxpayer....Keep hiding behind your vail of anonymity.
Gary A Nilsen October 13, 2013 at 09:00 AM
Not surprised about Mooney. I wrote her a letter not that long ago asking to participate in the continuing education program. I never heard back on that, either.
Dave Sattinger October 13, 2013 at 12:17 PM
http://nypost.com/2013/10/11/schools-outlawing-handshakes-dodge-ball-and-fun/ Rumor has it we made Weekend Update on SNL too.
Joe Vette October 13, 2013 at 12:50 PM
What fuss. Just left a "flag football" game at Mahopac High School for 7 year olds and found more dangers at the car parking fields than on the playing fields.
paul October 13, 2013 at 01:55 PM
To the misfits of society that make up these rules. You are ensuring that we have children that are scared and non talented. It is called part of growing up and being active with other children. Interaction is what makes us better adults. Have you no shame for this stupidity. STOP THE INSANITY OF RAISING SOFT PEOPLE IN SOCIETY.....
Terry October 13, 2013 at 11:52 PM
OMG - I saw a skit on this last night on SNL (and chuckled)- but didn't know it was about Port schools until my daughter informed me. Mooney has got to go; she had no answer for days, then states - put it in writing !! Cut it out - Our town looks like a bunch of fools. The middle school years are a part of growing up and interfacing other kids. Have we all lost our minds ?? Has the PC mentality (or stupidity) taken over ALL aspects of school and society. So out of control.
Joe Vette October 14, 2013 at 06:17 AM
The Principal has nothing to do with this, it's up to the AD to handle "balls on the field." Oh my goodness, the Principal has more important duties and concerns.
Ronnie Gavarian October 14, 2013 at 07:04 AM
While all you folks are trying to come up with a valid reason, opinion, excuse, criticism, etc....of what or why Dr. Mooney did what she did, you are forgetting the broader issue which is, we are systematically denying our children their childhood. They need to engage in competitive sports, they need to get some bumps and bruises. And, yes, they sometimes need to fail. That's life. And if they don't experience it, YOU, as parents are going to regret it because you will have raised a pampered, clinging, whiny adult.
Sandy Surf October 14, 2013 at 08:59 AM
Karen Sloan should be ashamed of herself. Answering for the administration is beyond ridiculous!
Richard Sussman October 14, 2013 at 01:57 PM
Before we start to blame individual people, we should first find out who made the policy. Was it the School Board? Superintendent? or a lower level administrator and when did the board or superintendent find out about it? What were the actions that led up to the policy? In any case I will fault the board for not having an immediate meeting to discuss and find out the above answers in a public meeting. The board seems to ignore important issues or do them in secret.


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