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With playgrounds off-limits, Columbus schools rethink recess during COVID pandemic

Alissa Widman Neese – The Columbus Dispatch |

When Columbus City Schools students started heading back to classrooms last month, Lindbergh Elementary School Principal Annette Tooman was nervous, she said. How would kids unwind, exercise and play at recess?

A recent donation of 250 “recess bags” from Seven Baskets, a Columbus faith-based nonprofit organization, has stamped out those worries, Tooman said. Now when children head onto the playground, they each bring along their own lime-green drawstring bag of equipment. They can decorate the blacktop with chalk designs or bounce rubber balls off the school wall, all while keeping a safe distance from their peers. The Hilltop Kiwanis Club also added a jump rope for every child.

This week, the Columbus Board of Education voted 7-0 to buy similar “recess kits” and clip-on pedometers, or step-counters, for the district’s youngest learners. The purchase cost about $740,000 total in federal grants — $423,000 for the 23,000 recess kits and $317,000 for the 26,640 pedometers. The company that will supply the equipment is School Specialty, a provider of educational products based in Wisconsin.

Several central Ohio districts, including Dublin, Reynoldsburg and South-Western, told The Dispatch that they’re still allowing students to use playground equipment and are disinfecting it regularly.

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