“Does a Charter School that Receives Public Funds have the right to refuse access to their playground on evenings and weekends?”


“Dear PoPville,

I’ve noticed that E.L. Haynes, a charter school, is locking their playground on evenings and weekends.This doesn’t seem right to me. Powell Elementary and Roosevelt High keep their facilities open on the weekends. I don’t have kids but I am a tax payer and I like the idea of neighborhood kids being able to play at playground in their neighborhood. Does E.L. Haynes have the right to refuse access to their playground on evenings and weekends?”

50 Comment

  • I wasn’t aware that Powell stayed open on weekends? How would one actually utilize the playgrounds at Powell currently given the construction? I thought the only way to get to the playgrounds were through the school right now? I am genuinely curious about schools being open though; I live near Coolidge and Whittier EC and both do not have their facilities open for outside use as far as I know, though this could be because Takoma Rec is right up the street (or I could be wrong)

  • I can’t speak to the legality (although I recall several discussions about public school resources that are not available for public use), but practically, I wouldn’t leave ANY space open to the general public on evenings and weekends. Not unless those public funds were generous enough to fund either guards or Monday-morning clean-up crews.

    • To be fair, it depends on where you live. I live near Bancroft, which is heavily used by the public evenings and weekends, and it’s not suffered more than the usual wear & tear.

  • Speaking of EL Haynes, what is going on with their main field. HUGE construction project. Looks like a new football field is coming?? The old Clark Elementary site really should have become a mixed use development with open space to support a new Grant/Sherman metro stop!

    • Apparently they are building a soccer field.

    • They are building a turf soccer field that will be open to the public.

      • Really? This is awesome news!

        • Yea, turf football field/soccer field for the school, but community can use as well and right now they are proposing 60 ft lights as well…supposedly the lights will only be needed a few times for late practices and the lights at that level shine directly down, so it wouldn’t be a nuisance to neighbors, but I guess there are some people fighting the lights. There are EL Haynes meetings monthly for those interested.

          • Actually, they are proposing four 70 foot tall light poles for the field. Before they said the lights would be shut off at 6:30 or 7:00pm after practice. Now as of just a couple of months they are saying they want to keep the lights on all night long at a lower level. It sounds very unsightly and unnecessary.

    • Short answer is yes, that have that right, and yes, they should and do exercise it. Full disclosure, I an not unbiased about this, because my child goes there, and I helped, along with many other parent volunteers, to build that playground 4 years ago. The school tried to keep it open, but between the needles and other senseless vandalism, it’s just not realistic. I’m sure in many areas it is, but sadly, in that neighborhood it isn’t.
      As an aside, the question of “why can’t we use school property whenever we want” is a time-honored debate at EL Haynes – when the school first took over the old Clark space, nearby dog owners were OUTRAGED that they couldn’t continue to use the field as a dog park. They’d gotten accustomed to doing so after Clark closed, and simply couldn’t understand why the school, and parents, didn’t want the kids running through dog poop at recess. Unbelievable.
      And to echo other comments, many DCPS schools lock up their property after hours.

      • Nothing wrong with being biased. As a Powell parent, I’m a little shocked at the insinuation that Powell is open on weekends, and I really hope it’s not true, especially with on-going construction. EL Haynes (and it’s families) have put a lot of work into that school; they have every right to keep it closed when not in use, as do other school (public or charter).

      • There is such little public space, and it makes me sad when folks keep it locked up instead of letting the community enjoy it. My balcony overlooks the ball field on V NW between 13/14. It used to be used everyday, but then there was panic that the children who play baseball there one day a week would die of a horrible disease or something if used by others. So now it’s locked up 95% of the time. Makes me sad to see it empty – especially bc I want to use it to kick around a soccer ball sometime. So sad. Such a waste.

        Instead of locking it down as “MINE MINE MINE!!!!” – why not organize community clean ups, invite the community in, and make it a part of the neighborhood? Help those around you rise up, and teach the kids a real lesson.

        • I’m unsure whether you’re talking about the playground, or the use of school facilities as a dog park. If it’s the former, while I agree with you in theory, it’s just not practical. “Community clean ups” are great, but they don’t happen daily. When kids go out to the playground on a Wednesday morning and find needles and used condoms on the playground, that’s not a situation a school can, or should, allow to continue. And that doesn’t even get to more serious vandalism – community volunteers with brooms, rakes and scrub brushed aren’t a solution when equipment is ripped apart.

  • it doesn’t seem fair. I believe DCPS playgrounds are supposed to be available on the weekends and evenings. Seems like charters would have to follow the same rule.

    • There are lots of DCPS rules that charters don’t have to follow, which is pretty much the whole point of charters — for better or worse. In terms of access to property, if a charter school leases a shuttered DCPS building, I suppose the District could require that provision in the lease, but I’ve never heard of any law requiring charter schools to open their grounds after hours.

  • They originally had it opened, but apparently they had many issues with finding needles and other questionable items in the park and decided for safety reasons to close it at dusk. Older kids were hanging out there as well. The cameras aren’t the best for security either, especially in darkness.

    • Yeah, the few times I took my kids to EL Haynes on weekends, the older kids claiming the space were a problem.

    • I was thinking this too. If they were to open in the evenings, and then there’d be someone writing into Dear PoPville complaining about the “unsavory characters” who hang out at the playground at night. People will complain no matter what.

  • I’m not aware of official regulation, but I do know that Powell’s playground is not accessible after hours. Same with the playground of the charter school behind Upshur park. DPR playgrounds are officially closed at dark, some of them behind locked gates.
    It’s a got to be a liability issue for schools – both DCPS and charter. Beyond that, I wouldn’t want to create a space where just anyone could hang out at any hour, especially a school playground. Think of the things kids might find at recess.

  • Barnard (DCPS) keeps their playground locked up on nights and weekends – or at least has in the past few years since it was renovated.

    • As someone who’s house faces Barnard, kids (of all ages) walk on top of the brick walls and jump the fence or slide under the gate to the parking lot to get access to the grounds. Not saying it is right or wrong and it may be slightly preventative to “lock it up” but there is no follow up. I have had to call the police after seeing teenagers throwing rocks at the windows of the trailer classrooms.

  • The playground at my kids’ charter school gets peppered with vile graffiti by people who hang out there after hours. It really sucks to have to answer innocent questions about the F word etc from a 1st grader who just wants to use the slide. I know I can’t shield him from ugliness forever, but I don’t want it thrown in his face in 1st grade.

  • Could this be a misinterpretation of the sign? I’m reading that it’s reserved for school use only during those hours on school days, which makes sense. Outside of those hours, it’s fair game before dusk.

    Am I the only one reading it this way?

  • I grew up in Ward 3 and all of the local playgrounds there were open 24/7. It was pretty great as a kid and it is a shame Ward 4 residents do not get the same luxury. But honestly, Ward 3 did not appear to have the same concerns with loitering by people up to no good. You definitely do not want kids coming across needles… I expect that as Petworth changes, so too will the restrictions on playground use. Maybe its time for a test try now??

  • Just because something is publicly funded doesn’t mean they can’t set operating hours. Some public parks close in the evenings.

  • they also don’t let you eat in their cafeteria or read books from the library or do experiments in the science lab on the weekends! And think of all the DC-owned office buildings that are locked on the weekends…the nerve of these taxpayer-dollar-accepting weasels! seriously, just because something gets money from the public doesn’t mean you get to hang out there whenever you want.

    How many threads have there been on here about people wanting to use the Dunbar or Cardozo tracks and finding them locked (hint: a lot)? Same with the Dunbar pool. DCPS schools don’t all leave their playgrounds and playing fields open on the weekends and considering how badly these sites get treated (litter, drug use, vandalism, etc.), I don’t blame them. There are a lot of DPR sites that are open 7 days a week so those are probably your best bet.

  • Yes.

    Next question.

  • Egad

    Tubman (DCPS) keeps their playground locked outside of school hours and only unlock it when teams are slated to use the soccer field for games. I think that they even have no trespassing signs.

  • the privitaization of public space, esp. if they occupy buildings under lease is one of the many things that doesn’t get discussed with “school reform”.

  • Hyde-Addison DCPS is locked every night and over the weekend.

  • While it’s a nice idea in theory but unless they could monitor/close it in the evenings I’m sure there would be a lot of issues with littering/vandalism/drugs/etc.

    It seems very strange that school grounds being “open” for anyone on weekends. However, I know that many schools offer their facilities to different adult and kids organizations ie: ayso soccer, baseball, organized sports, dance, community clubs. Even with those the school is’t really open to the public rather it’s just for those in a specific purpose and the school is locked up afterwards.

  • I think that sign may be more aspirational than enforceable. If the charter school actually has the authority to exclude people from the premises, shouldn’t there be a DCPS insignia, or an insignia from some other authority cited somewhere on the sign?

    • Do you need to have an insignia on your house to exclude others? EL Haynes sits on private property and a lock on the fence should suffice.
      The sign, if anything, is simply a notice to the public about when the playground is off limits. It may be inaccurate now, but it’s not like it has any binding legal effect anyway.

      • EL Haynes does not sit on private property. It is public property and they receive public tax dollars to run the school and maintain the facilities. The playground is supposed to be open to the community weekday nights after aftercare ends as well as on the weekends as per an agreement with the community. School officials report that sometimes (often more and more) it stays locked by accident.

        • You’re incorrect. Even if this is a former DCPS school (I can’t remember if it is), government property =/= public property, as the phrase is being used in this thread, regardless of its taxpayer-funded nature. The Supreme Court has stated as much in a case involving barring people from public housing developments (Virginia v. Hicks). Besides, once it’s leased, it becomes the sole right of the tenant to occupy. Now if there’s an agreement out there that changes the normal rules of how property works, so be it; but no one else in this thread has alleged that.

          • I am not incorrect. This was a former DCPS school- Clark Elementary. EL Haynes is leasing it. They can by law lock it, I never claimed otherwise. The school has for years said they will keep the playground open to the community on weekends. They have stated this in community meetings on multiple occasions.

            Maybe we as a community should look at how we can support schools to keep their playgrounds open like they are in Ward 3. Police foot patrols could also help with ensuring misuse of playgrounds while simultaneously reduce crimes on the street!

          • Nope. You’re still wrong. As I said before, while the property is leased to a non-governmental agency it is no longer public property . A private entity has the sole right of occupancy — that’s what a leasehold is. And before you go off on that whole taxpayer funding thing again, there are countless private nonprofits (which EL Haynes is — look it up in DCRA records if you wish) that receive government funding nationwide. That doesn’t convert them or their property from private to public.
            And you actually did claim that EL Haynes isn’t “supposed to be” locking it. Unless that prohibition is somehow enforceable by law, then it doesn’t exist. And all you’ve pointed to is the possibility of the existence of non-written statements of intention, that can be changed as circumstances require.

  • As a former DCPS central office employee, I know how much it takes to keep up a school playground. Its intense. As much as I think it would be awesome for the playgrounds to be open for neighborhood kids, that is a risk DCPS just can’t afford to take. The federal government puts strict regulations on up keep, if the playgrounds are vandalized and deemed unsafe for students, our school district risks losing thousands of dollars in funds.

    • How about families on SNAP required to do 2 hours of clean-up each week?

      • How about families making over $150k a year being required to pay an extra 1% in taxes to increase fundingn for DCPS, including maintaining playgrounds?

        • The funds may not go directly to playground upkeep. In title 1 elementary schools, monies can come from a variety of sources including the federal govt.

      • Who requires SNAP families to do 2 hours of clean up? This is not a federal reg as I am very familiar with SNAP policy as well.

  • Depends on the lease. They often can and do, in my hood mostly out of fear of lawsuits. It’s a great way to really pee in the pool of neighborhood relations though. If these spaces (which are quasi public) were a little more liberal in terms of community use they’d probably have less vandalism. Let’s be honest, a charter opens across from your house, it kind of sucks. Then they lock up the field you were using for your kid to play on and drive to kill.

  • If kids can’t figure out how to climb fences they don’t deserve to play.

  • The city school I live near – J.O. Wilson – opens the playground and field on weekends to the public. I believe there are some volunteer parents who unlock the gate? Having the grounds accessible overnight would indeed lead to vandalism and probably all sorts of unsavory behavior, but I don’t see why the playgrounds can’t be open during the daytime hours. What about over the summer? Kids need places to play!

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