Student head injuries at Irving highest among Oak Park schools

PTO seeking help from District 97 officials for playground upgrade


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Irving Elementary students have experienced more head injuries this school year compared to kids at any other elementary school in District 97, a result of playing on the school's massive asphalt surface, according to data from the district.

Among the eight public elementary schools, Irving, the data shows, has had the most head injuries due to kids falling on the blacktop surface. The information comes from school nurses and was attained by a group of Irving parents who filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the district.

The decades-old blacktop at Irving, 1125 S. Cuyler, covers 80,000 square feet and extends along Ridgeland Avenue from Harvard Street to a row of houses just off Fillmore.

Laura Crawford, co-chair of the Irving PTO, said parents have long known of the safety issues concerning kids playing on the hard, asphalt blacktop — Irving has the least green space of any school in the district. The Irving PTO has been working to replace that surface with an eco-friendly green space for the last five years. Their master plan includes such features as a fitness area and an athletic field.

The parents have been raising money for their estimated $2 million-plus schoolyard. They have just over $100,000 in their coffer so far. D97 has committed $500,000 toward the project. Crawford said the FOIA request was filed in order to provide more quantitative data for potential funders of their project. The parents did not request head injury data from the two middle schools. Still, what the parents did find was disturbing, Crawford said.

Looking specifically at the rate of head injury per 100 students at the eight schools, Irving has a rate of 7.5 head injuries. Whittier and Longfellow has a rate of about 1.7. Beye and Mann both have a rate of just under one, while Holmes, Lincoln and Hatch had a rate of zero.

"Students are far more likely to become seriously injured outside on school property at Irving than at any other school in the district," Crawford said.

Along with D97, the PTO has garnered support from the Park District of Oak Park. But the recent head injury data has created a greater sense of urgency for Irving parents, who'd like to see their project break ground sooner than later, Crawford said.

She and two other Irving parents made their case at the May 22, D97 school board meeting. They urged administrators to take the lead in the project and start construction by next summer. Crawford said the PTO is currently pursing grants but insist they need additional help from D97. She added that parents were not aware of the injury statistics until filing the FOIA.

Entering this school year, the district set aside $250,000 in its budget for playground upgrades at every school over the next few years. This summer, Beye, Longfellow and Holmes will receive new playgrounds and other landscaping upgrades.

At the May 22 meeting, Supt. Albert Roberts and board President Peter Barber both reiterated the district's support for the Irving schoolyard project. Barber and other trustees did not dispute the injury data but urged the district to verify the information. Roberts expressed surprise that the parents filed a FOIA request, saying he was unaware of that request until the parents spoke that night. But the superintendent said he's always been troubled with the Irving blacktop.

"I'm a little surprised by the presentation tonight because it seems as if we were not seeing that blacktop as a high priority. I would've had that blacktop removed already. That's one of the first things I noticed when I came to the community," Roberts said.

Barber also responded to the urgency expressed by parents for the district to play a greater role in the project. He noted the project has thus far been led by the PTO.

"I want to make it real clear that at least my own personal expectation is that the Irving schoolyard community will continue to have a positive relationship that we have had up to this point, working with the administration and the board to make this a reality," he said.

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Posted: May 31st, 2012 8:57 AM

plant some grass and be done with it! The plan by the parents is fine, only if they pay for it.

Tony P  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 8:35 AM

In the end, Not, isn't providing Irving with a safe playground what is most important rather than worrying about what is being spent and planned at the other schools?

Tony P  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 8:32 AM

Jenny - just felt the need to point out that, contrary to what you said, Irving is in fact "getting a bit of that.

Tony P  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 8:29 AM

Again, between the $500,000 from the district, the $100,000 raised thus far and whatever the park district commits to the project, I think the students at Irving will end up with a great playground that is safe.

Not Exactly  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 8:02 AM

@Interesting - please note that I said "if you read the public comment from the Irving group" not read the article. Check their website for full copy of that statement. @Tony P - look at board packet from this D97 meeting where they approved the summer 2012 playground budgets. I'm not defending the project, just pointing out that you might want to look beyond a simply WJ article if you feel that strongly about this.

Jenny Tiner  

Posted: May 31st, 2012 7:36 AM

@Mares-haha-I'd love a free subscription:) @ Tony-they are spending more on Irving because it needs more work and hasn't had work done on it, by the looks of it, than ANY other school. Have you seen it, did you read this? It is in shameful condition.

Tony P  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 9:11 PM

Even if those figures are accurate, Not Exactly, Irving is still getting more money than any other school. Plus, I have heard that the Park District will likely contribute funds to the project. Is that not enough to build a safe playground for Irving students?


Posted: May 30th, 2012 8:42 PM

@Not Exactly. First, the article says, in 5th to last par, "the district set aside $250K...for playground upgrades at every school..." Which is 1/2 of Irving's $500K. Please provide data/source of money for your figures. Second, per the article, the Irving parents "urged start construction by next summer..." and "insist they need additional help from D97." Translated: they want MORE taxpayer money for their dream - NOW! How much? For $2M plan? Give me a break!

Not Exactly  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 7:45 PM

@Tony P - if you read the public comment the Irving group made, they are asking for exactly what you said. They are stepping out of the way to let the district get things done given the new safety concerns. As for $500K being twice the other schools, they are spending about $420K at Longfellow, $300K at Beye and upper $200K at Holmes this summer alone. @Struggling - while what u say about land ownership is true is many cases, all currently planned work is being funded by D97, not Parks.

Tony P  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 5:25 PM

The only reason work isn't being done at Irving this summer is because the district was working within the timeline/master plan created by the committee in charge of the project. Again, if safety is such a big concern, the time has come to set that plan aside for something on a smaller scale that will provide kids with a safe place to play.

Tony P  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 5:21 PM

Jenny - the district and board have made a public commitment of $500,000 to the Irving Schoolyard Project, which is twice as much as the commitment made to any other school. How much more do you want?


Posted: May 30th, 2012 4:47 PM

"I've been here two years, this place does'nt make sense". Congratulations Jenny, you have just summed up modern day Oak Park in one sentence. Dan Haley, I believe a free, one year subscribtion to the Wednesday Journal is in order.

Struggling taxpayer  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 4:37 PM

Some of the schools have park district land adjacent to their land. So playgrounds on park property have been upgraded. Two different pots of money.

Jenny Tiner  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 4:29 PM

p.s. Can anyone explain why Beye is getting a 16,000 (could be wrong about the dollars) re-vamp and we can't get a bit of that? there is an article on this website about a dang turtle they were sad they might have to lose in their toddler area!? Really!? If that is all they have to worry about boo-hoo. They have a huge field, gorgeous playground, what gives? Anyone know the reasoning behind other schools getting what seems like favourtism. I've been here two year, this place doesn't make sense.

Jenny Tiner  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 4:24 PM

@cake. I didn't say it was to be easy/not easy to swallow, I said it should coincide this article, motive is of no importance to me, this project & the kids are. As far as moms sayin you're an oggling toddler wanting lez, screw that! That's an OPcentric attitude made from some arrogant/needing to tie her identity to her child. It's sad they even said that. someone was eyein my daughter, a woman who can't have children, u guys joking about that,shame on you. Back to the point, good luck Irving.

Let Them Eat Cake  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 3:16 PM

Heh! Point taken. A teachable moment for us both. And yet... how much of those pay-as-you-go events are funded by property tax dollars? ...To be continued over a round of pinots. In any case, I'm glad to see "toddler-centric monoculture" enter the meme-osphere.

I like it here  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 2:40 PM

Hey Cake, tell us how Uncork Illinois and the FLW walk on Saturday fit into your vision of the toddler-centric monoculture here in OP. Yep, every event in Oak Park is directed solely at straight families with small children. My family just wants to coexist, and yeah, we picked here because of the schools (as opposed to the city). We want to support those schools. Sorry if I assumed you were straight. My (de)fault. I don't care about your orientation any more than you should care about mine.

Let Them Eat Cake  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 2:20 PM

Jenny, it's just a little hard to swallow that this is suddenly an urgent safety issue, when, after all, the IPTO have been developing this for years as a water conservation, etc... project adding years to the schedule for design, fundraising, grant writing, etc. Both the board and the admin seem to imply that they could have had jackhammers at the ready as early as this summer. Just like it's hard to believe that Frosting had me pegged as some sort of mom ogling lesbian.

Struggling taxpayer  

Posted: May 30th, 2012 10:19 AM

Tired, the free market is working fine. Less demand = falling home prices.

Jenny Tiner  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 9:38 PM

Ya know, I find it sad that anyone here is disputing these kids need a playground and we have somehow reached talking about sexual orientation, farmers markets or suggesting helmets OR suggesting that this is article is coincidental to the schools effort for a playground. Why shouldn't this article coincide? We need support. Larger classes, more injuries-sure. Does that justify not spending the money, which most is being raised by parents, so the kids have what the other OP schools have? Shame.

Frosting from SW Boystown / Andersonville  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 6:11 PM

If I assumed you to be straight, that assumes I know your gender, which I do not. You are bitter for bemoaning your paradise is ruined by my kids. What ARE you doing at the Farmer's Market anyway?

Let Them Eat Cake from East Naperville  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 5:23 PM

Thanks "frosting" for making my point far better and more pointedly than I ever could by equating the childless with bitter losers. Thanks too for displaying exactly the new monocultural mindset I alluded to by assuming I must be straight. Sadly, you live up to my observations of the new local demographic all too well.

Cake with frosting, please  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 4:37 PM

HUH? The pro-tax crowd wants the childless kept out? Why exactly? And, what are you doing at the Farmer's Market if not buying $8 strawberries? Probably to ogle hot moms. Of course, I bring my toddler (we are toddler-centric after all) to look at the bitter losers eyeballing (but not buying) expensive fruit. We then discuss why they stay if they hate it so much. Then I explain that some people blame everything on taxes.

Sarcastic Mann Parent  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 4:31 PM

Where are the haters to blame the head injuries on the parents? I think it is their win-at-all costs attitude that causes these noggin injuries. Are a few valedictorians a fair trade for this plague of head injuries? Let's drum up some anecdotal evidence of these rotten Irving parents. I'll start: the parents at Irving that I have spoken to say that they exaggerate the injuries to get funding.


Posted: May 29th, 2012 3:10 PM

...a pint.

Let Them Eat Cake from Oak Park  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 3:08 PM

Kudos to "Tired" for being honest about the oft unvoiced sentiments of the pro-tax crowd: high taxes keep out the riffraff and the childless. The conversion of my block over the past ten years from an interesting mix of families and singles, seniors and young folk, gays and straights, to a monoculture of toddler-centric family units is testament to that. But keep in mind "Tired" that the Farmer's Market only represents the demographic that shops for strawberries at $8

Tired of Imbeciles.  

Posted: May 29th, 2012 2:31 PM

If the attendance at the Farmers Market is any indication, there are plenty of young families continuing to settle in Oak Park. If some people can no longer afford to live here, that just opens up spots for those who can and who appreciate what OP has to offer. This is the free market working at its best.


Posted: May 29th, 2012 1:33 PM

People, people, let's calm down here. This is nothing that excessive government involvement and disproportionate spending and taxing cannot fix. Now can we turn our attention to something really important like the pigeons who might put to death for pooping under the L tracks. I am really starting to question the priorities of people in Oak Park.

Let's see the data  

Posted: May 28th, 2012 11:59 AM

IF the data re. head injuries is correct, and IF causation is the asphalt surface (which has been in place for decades), THEN Irving School and D97 need to be held accountable for playground negligence in terms of unsafe facility and/or insufficient supervision. IF the data and/or causation is incorrect, then Irving School and D97 needs to provide a public refutation. Let's see the data, and let's not make assumptions.

Struggling taxpayer from Oak Park  

Posted: May 27th, 2012 3:21 PM

A serious head injury per week is a startling statistic that begs examination. If this is really happening, the school's recess schedule should be immediately revised to ensure fewer students are on the asphalt at any given time, to prevent them from crashing into each other at this rate.


Posted: May 27th, 2012 2:35 PM

Just read Trib article that IL House cmte just voted to decrease ed funding by 4%. And D97 has granted $500K for asphalt removal? Shouldn't OP be trying to focus on "best methods" for educating our children? How about adopting RF priorities AND save money! Half of 2012 OPRF valedictorians are from RF. They are about 1/5 of OPRF students. Does RF have all-day kdg? K-8 Spanish? Nope. Heck, RF is even a toxic wasteland - the park district sprays the weeds and STILL their kids perform great?!?

Struggling taxpayer from Oak Park  

Posted: May 27th, 2012 2:11 PM

Irving kids deserve a modern playground but the excessive taxing and spending in this town is quietly driving many families away. Surely a good playground can be designed at a reasonable cost. This injury study obviously was released to gain sympathy and garner support for the current plan.

Let's see the data  

Posted: May 26th, 2012 7:12 AM

If any day care center or youth organization had 7.5 percent of children incur head injuries, they would have been shut down and investigated. Why is not D97 not being investigated? Why didn't D97 reveal this earlier while completing 33 head injury notices? Why did a few parents reveal this finding only via FOIA? Either the data is true, and D97 is negligent, or the data is not true, and D97 is being played by those with an agenda for a new playground.


Posted: May 26th, 2012 7:03 AM

step 1. remove asphalt. Step 2. put in grass. Step 3. figure out what to do with the left over $2.2 mil dollars


Posted: May 25th, 2012 8:01 PM

@Max. Thank you for the sanity! Are any Irving parents listening?

Max from Oak Park  

Posted: May 25th, 2012 2:36 PM

Tony P makes several good points. If safety is the issue let's cut back on the bells and whistles and grand engineering schemes on this Cadillac of schoolyards. An Oak Park Patch article from January states that the grand plan has "a sophisticated drainage system geared toward water conservation" including "a stream running toward the front of the school". We can always add the bells and whistles and fountains and streams later once the Irving parents gather the funding

John Murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: May 25th, 2012 2:30 PM

I like Peter Traczyk's concept on funding school parks, as long as the facilities are not limited to Irving students. A D97/Park and Rec partnership is a natural as both taxing bodies can be winners. The big winner is the taxpayers who use the school park on evenings, weekends, and the summer. I am also in favor of fundraising and sponsorship. Both are an opportunity for the residents to participate in OP's development. Would I buy cookies, raffle tickets, event tickets, etc. Yes!

Peter Traczyk  

Posted: May 25th, 2012 12:11 PM

@Tony P: you have it right. The D97 Board has publicly committed $500,000 towards the Irving Playground project. The Irving committee developed a well-designed, aspirational plan that required a budget far in excess of that committed by District 97. The Board set a deadline of two years for the Irving community to fund-raise toward the goal while simultaneously exploring partnerships with the Park District as well as grant opportunities. Assuming the Irving data is accurate, the Board and Administration will now consider the Irving committee's request to accelerate the timeframe and revisit the scope of the plan. Construction projects at the schools are always scheduled for summer break and it is far too late to for work to be planned for this year. Therefore the Administration will also need to investigate changes in supervision of the playground to ensure that injuries are reduced (ideally eliminated) in meantime.


Posted: May 25th, 2012 9:15 AM

I spoke with former Irving parents the other day and they informed me that the 2012 OPRF class had 2 valedictorians from Irving (same as much larger Mann), another is the high jump champ in IL (going to Duke), and another has a scholarship for bball at ISU. Also, numerous Cum Laude and a lot going to top colleges. How is that possible when they had recess on the asphalt? Perhaps because Irving families were "tougher" then? Millions for bruises? Even with 100% grass - kids get head injuries.

Tony P  

Posted: May 25th, 2012 9:13 AM

I heard the district publicly committed up to $500 K in support of this project, and would have included Irving in the mix for work this summer, but was trying to work within the committee's master plan for this project. Perhaps the time has come to rethink the master plan if safety is that big of a concern.


Posted: May 25th, 2012 8:32 AM

@Brian, I think you may have been a bit dismissive of Rich's point. He asked whether there is a problem with proper supervision. The NFL doesn't play on asphalt, and yet, as you mention, we know of a problem with head injuries in football. It's the collisions, not the playing surface, that seem to cause the problem in the NFL.


Posted: May 25th, 2012 7:29 AM

Rich and Carol: Because your family personally didn't experience any head injuries doesn't mean they didn't happen. Plus, we now know more about head injuries, so there is more care in reporting (see: NFL). Interesting: No, it's not a coincidence. Irving parents are making a case for the same facilities as all the other schools in the district - especially while there's $250K to UPGRADE other schools' playground. It's only been decades of neglect. Great exaggerated blowhard comments, though!

Let's see the data  

Posted: May 25th, 2012 6:33 AM

According to the Irving Schoolyard Project website, a "head injury" refers to a student who has struck their head hard enough for the nurse to send home a notice regarding warning signs for concussion symptoms. It goes on to say that Irving has a rate of 7.5 head injuries per 100 students for the current year (reported on May 22), which is not yet over. Since 444 students attend Irving, this means about 33 notices have been sent home this year, or about one per week.

Let's see the data  

Posted: May 25th, 2012 6:17 AM

According to the findings of Irving parents, 7.5 percent of some students at Irving have had head injuries due to asphalt surface of the playground? Please post the data so others can replicate your research as well.


Posted: May 24th, 2012 10:07 PM

Gosh, do you think that it's coincidence that these self-reported "injuries" are occurring at the same time when Irving parents want $$$$ for a new playground? Coincidence? How much does that come to for every "life-threatening" bruise and scrape for Brin's kids? Oh the humanity! And, yes, Carol, generations of Irving kids, tens of thousands, somehow managed to NOT require daily trips to the ER! How? Are Irving kids now wimps? Or are Irving parents today trying to make a case for a lot of money?

Irving parent from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 24th, 2012 8:22 PM

... To clarify: By pointing out that there are more students, I meant that more students increases the likelihood of collisions. The Schoolyard Team compared rates per 100 students to account for different populations at different schools. Also, we don't know that past generations avoided head injuries, because this is the first time anyone has taken the district-wide data and made meaningful comparisons with it.

Irving parent from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 24th, 2012 8:15 PM

RichF and Carol, there are way more kids at Irving than there were even just a few years ago, and the numbers are expected to keep growing. That's probably why things are different than they were in past generations.

RichF from Oak Park  

Posted: May 24th, 2012 7:37 PM

Maybe we aren't getting the proper supervision from the teachers. When my 3 kids went there I don't recall any head injuries and that was before the playland was intalled on the north side of the school.

Carol Foytik from Oak Park  

Posted: May 24th, 2012 5:55 PM

How did past generations of kids manage to avoid head injuries on the same blacktop?


Posted: May 24th, 2012 5:49 PM

One word: helmet.

Roger French from Oak Park  

Posted: May 24th, 2012 5:39 PM

agree w/ Brian. maybe parents need a PI atty??


Posted: May 24th, 2012 5:25 PM

(Dang iPhone keyboard) ...provide the most basic of school facilities? Facilities all other schools have - and are being upgraded? As the parent of an Irving student who comes home with bruises and scrapes from playing on that blacktop -- from school and T-ball practice -- it's time the local govts step up. Yes, it's probably difficult. But that's not a reason to not make something happen. That's what leaders do.


Posted: May 24th, 2012 5:18 PM

So the leader of the school board is saying it's up to the parents to lead an initiative like this? Parents supposed to set up the meetings between the park and school districts to discuss this? They are supposed to allocate funds for Pr

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