EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 19, 2013

Dodgeball returns to Windham

School board relents on 'human target' game ban

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — Dodgeball dodged a ban.

The School Board, by reluctant consensus, last night accepted a study committee’s recommendation to let students play dodgeball-style “human target” games in physical education classes next year.

Some games will be renamed to sound less violent. Students intimidated by the games will get to opt out for other activities.

Meanwhile, teachers and administrators will go back, take a longer look at the curriculum and make more in depth recommendations next year about physical education activities for the long haul.

The School Board took no formal vote, while providing consensus direction to administrators to accept the study panel’s recommendations.

That effectively overturned an earlier 4-1 vote by the board to eliminate the games.

One member, Stephanie Wimmer, said she was still standing by her earlier vote to drop them.

“I firmly believe we can do better,” Wimmer said.

Board member Michelle Farrell also expressed reservations about excluding students and said she would prefer a curriculum emphasizing healthy living.

“I’m a little concerned with our approach here,” Farrell said.

Chairman Mike Joanis conceded surprise at a 180-degree turnaround from a prior advisory committee’s recommendation to drop the games from the curriculum. That was prompted by concerns over student safety and bullying.

Joanis said he was disappointed to be having to deal with the issue amid more pressing matters.

“We just need to move on from this,” Joanis said.

Students protested the board’s decision this spring to drop the games. More than 400 signed petitions appealing for the games to be allowed.

Board members also took criticism in town and throughout the country for their decision, prompting another look.

Windham Middle School physical education teacher Erin Shirley, who served on the panel that recommended keeping the games, assured the School Board educators are looking at a lot of different ways to meet the needs of students.

She also stressed that the sponge balls used in such games keep students safe.

“We don’t typically have injuries in Nerf-ball games,” Shirley said.

Shirley, responding to concerns raised by board members that some students are uncomfortable with the human-target games, acknowledged as much, but also said they are uncomfortable with other activities, such as serving at volleyball, batting in softball or dissecting in the lab.

Dennis Senibaldi, the only board member to oppose the ban from the beginning, thanked Shirley for those examples.

“That’s what people need to understand,” Senibaldi told Shirley.

Golden Brook School assistant principal Rory O’Connor said games with names suggesting violent character would be renamed. One example: Slaughter will become Numero Uno.

Superintendent Henry LaBranche said he would inform schools of the board’s decision to restore the games and begin a comprehensive review of the physical education curriculum.

“I think it is time for this district to move onto a 21st-century curriculum,” LaBranche said.

In other business, resident Dick Forde’s proposal that the school district start an adult education program was referred by the board to administrators for consideration.

“My idea is to start a night school program for adult studies,” Forde said.

He suggested there could be classes in cooking or foreign languages.

Officials agreed it is worth exploring, but cautioned about potential costs and other considerations.

The Windham Soccer Association, meanwhile, told school officials they will donate two goals for the Middle School soccer field. A hearing will be scheduled next month because the value of the goals exceeds $5,000, but the board expressed thanks and indicated they will accept them.