Health advocates in Iowa noticed that something was missing from some of the beautiful, expansive playgrounds that had recently been built in that state. It wasn’t a slide, or climbing bars — it was kids. Locked up behind chain-link fences, the playgrounds were off limits after school hours and during the summer due to liability fears.
That ironic picture — a playground without kids, even as obesity rates among youth in Iowa soared — was the spark that created an Iowa coalition whose mission to change the liability laws as they pertain to school recreational facilities such as playgrounds, tracks and fields. Including more than 25 health and school-based organizations, they became known as the “Healthier Iowa Coalition.”
Seeing the importance of changing the law to both benefit the health of kids and provide taxpayers with access to one of their community investments, a bipartisan group of Iowa legislators introduced legislation known as the “Community Use Bill.” It clarified liability protections for schools and communities that want to open their facilities for public use.
Encouraged by the coalition, the measure passed both the Iowa House of Representatives and the Senate.The governor held a formal signing of the bill in April, making it law.
“Our schools are public, and we encourage community use of our facilities … Working together in our schools helps us develop shared understanding and makes better use of the huge investment our communities have made in our facilities,” says Dr. Thomas Ahart, superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools, in support of the law change.
The Healthier Iowa Coalition is now changing their focus to secure funding for the Safe Routes to School project, which will encourage Iowa children to more frequently walk and bike to school.