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Popular Playground Program Could be Revived With Changes

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

April 30, 2021 -- A popular City program that allowed elementary students to use School District playgrounds after school could be revived after it was slashed from the budget last year.

The Playground Access program -- which provided free supervised play for 1,835 school children in grades one through five -- was the subject of a talk "about paths forward" between School District, City and parent representatives this week.

"The most viable path will likely be for the District to allow unsupervised play (with parents signing a waiver) after school," City staff wrote in an update to the Council.

Lack of funding in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown that tossed the City into a $224 million budget deficit wasn't the only reason the program was cut, City staff said.

"This program was eliminated for reasons including its expense, the unusual nature of the program (and) recommendations of our outside youth safety consultant Praesidium," the City said.

According to Praesidium, continuing the program "would have required changes and increased expense," staff said.

Praesidium's recommendations were presented to the Council in October 2019 after the City was rocked by an alleged series of sex crimes by a former City employee who volunteered at the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL).

Among the recommendations was that the City ensure all staff members and volunteers of youth programs understand "that safety and the protection of children is part of their job" ("Consultant Presents Recommendations to Better Detect and Prevent Abuse at City Youth Programs ," October 16, 2019).

While the Council voted to slash the Playground access program last May, it approved $133,996 in funding to allow the PAL Youth Center to increase its hours.

In a subsequent meeting that month, several parents unsuccessfully urged the Council to restore the City's most used playground program ("City Restores $6.4 Million in Budget Cuts; Free Playground Program, Crossing Guards Axed," May 27, 2020).

In its update to the Council this month, staff said another reason the program was cut was "the likelihood that an alternative could be found," staff said.

The alternative could involve "the District allowing parents to supervise or arrange for supervision of their children who wish to play after school or the PTA taking over the program."

The meeting this week included District Superintendent Ben Drati, the head of the PTA and City staff.

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