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Schools should pay for shade
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published November 13, 2007
Florida is too hot and sunny not to give schoolchildren a break from the elements. But in Hillsborough County, elementary schools that want shaded play areas must raise the cash from their Parent-Teacher Association. This is an unfair burden that punishes families least able to afford their child a simple comfort. The school district should cover the cost and start putting these pavilions in place.
Times staff writer Dong-Phuong Nguyen put a human face to the disparity in a story published Sunday. While students at some schools play outdoors in covered courts, the vast majority have no protection. At Turner Elementary in north Tampa, students wear wide-brimmed hats to shield them from the sun during physical education classes. Kathryn Sutton, Turner's PTA president, said: "Our children are exposed to dangerous sun rays and overheating on a regular basis."
The school district matches up to $50,000 for a pavilion, but the PTA must raise the seed money. That explains why only 27 elementary schools - or one in five countywide - have covered courts.
The district blames a tight budget. Yet Pinellas and Pasco find the money, because those counties made a policy decision to provide elementary schools with covered courts. Hillsborough should do the same. The pavilions need not be elaborate. One south Hillsborough school spent $17,000; another is installing five giant umbrellas, at a cost of $28,000, to shade the play area. The covers need only to be safe and functional.
Hillsborough should outfit these schools as soon as possible and let PTAs, especially in the struggling schools, focus on bigger things, such as getting parents involved in the education of their children.