Parents concerned about student safety at Silver Summit Academy
The South Summit School District’s Silver Summit Academy has faced obstacles in its launch. Elementary students met at Oakley City Hall last year while waiting for construction crews to finish the school. This year, the students have gone without a playground or gym to run around in, and they sit in cramped classrooms.
Many parents and teachers are frustrated with the limited space and lack of resources at the school, and they worry about student safety. They say students play in parking lots and cross roads to access some of their classrooms. The district plans on eventually constructing a building specifically for the elementary students, but parents want change now.
Shad Sorenson, superintendent of the district, said Silver Summit Academy was originally designed to be used exclusively for a secondary school program. The district planned on housing the elementary school in the building before constructing a separate school for the elementary program in the future.
The district managed to fit the elementary students in the space when the school was completed last spring. But the plan for the building did not include a playground or area for the students to have recess. Indoors, the space that was supposed to be used for a cafeteria and gym was converted into a classroom because of the growth.
Sorenson said during a Board meeting in the fall that he asked Louise Willoughby, principal of the school, to expand the school’s model to allow more students to join. There are currently 75 students enrolled, he said.
“The elementary grew faster than we probably should have let it,” he said.
The district planned on letting students use the open space behind the academy to play during recess, he said. Trisha Painter, a member of the parent-teacher organization, joined a committee to raise money and organize plans to construct a playground.
The PTO raised $12,000, and the Board agreed to match the funds so the PTO could purchase slides, swings and uneven bars, Painter said.
Painter and other parents then volunteered to clear the land in preparation for the playground installation. But when the company went to install the playground, a business association that managed the land informed them that the district did not have the rights to build.
Sorenson said the district originally thought it could use the land for a playground, but it later learned that the association’s insurance agency would not permit students to play on the grounds because of the liability.
He said the district is currently working with the association and the county to purchase the land, but he is not sure when negotiations will be completed.
Sorenson said he has been frustrated by the dispute between the business association and the district.
“When you have open space that is safe for them to play on just sitting there, it’s a frustration,” he said.
Once the students were barred from playing on the land behind the school, they alternated between having recess on a hill in front of the school and in the parking lot immediately behind the school. Parents complained during Board meetings that neither option was safe. At the front of the school, there are dangerous materials such as rusted rebar and glass. Earlier this year, students found an old saw blade, Painter said.
In the parking lot, which the school shares with the business Park City Rain Gutter, Painter said it is dangerous because cars are constantly coming and going.
The PTO then found available space in a building across the street so students could have an indoor room for recess, said Laurel Oakeson, a parent on the PTO.
The Board approved the school’s use of the space at its meeting in November. Painter and Oakeson said parents and teachers purchased materials to redo the floors and build bathrooms in the space. It currently includes a small gym, which students use for indoor recess, physical education and art classes, and a bathroom, Sorenson said.
Students have used this space for recess for the last few months until last week, when a student was almost hit by a truck while crossing the road to access the school’s remote gym, Oakeson said. Students must cross two parking lots and North Business Loop Road to access the gym.
Sorenson said the district now sends a bus to bring the students to a public park about two miles away from the school. He said they get extended recess time when they visit the park. The district plans on bringing the students to the park until it finds another solution.
He is hopeful the district will be able to finalize its purchase of the land behind the school and install the playground soon. Oakeson worries it will not be done before the last day of school, which is at the end of May.
“Our kids have gone a whole school year with no playground and no safe space to play outside,” she said. “Kids have the right to come to a public school and feel safe, and be safe.”
Sorenson said parents should be “a little patient and forgiving” as the district works out the problem with the playground.
Parents are also concerned about the restroom situation at the school. Currently, there is only one restroom in the elementary side of the school. When that restroom is in use, students are supposed to walk down a hall with adult supervision to use the restroom on the secondary school side. Sorenson said secondary school students are told to not use the restroom reserved for the elementary students unless it is an emergency. Instead, they are asked to use the secondary school’s upstairs bathroom.
Parents who volunteer at the school said elementary students frequently visit the bathroom without an adult, and they said it is inappropriate for 5-year-olds to share a bathroom with seniors in high school. Sorenson said the district does not have the money or the space to build an extra set of restrooms in the elementary side of the school.
He said the district is currently getting quotes from construction companies to build two additional classrooms and bathrooms in the district-owned building behind the academy. The district currently rents the space to Park City Rain Gutter for about $7,000 a month. Sorenson said the district plans to have the space ready for use in late August.
He said the district intends to either build the Silver Summit Academy’s elementary program in the building currently occupied by Park City Rain Gutter or to build a separate elementary school in the Silver Summit area.
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The South Summit Board of Education voted 4-1 to put a bond measure on November’s ballot asking for $87 million to build a new high school.