Letters to the editor


July 02, 2006

Protect our kids: Fence the tot lot

Last week, the Columbia Association's board of directors barred [me] from speaking at their public forum on the grounds that I don't live on Columbia Association-assessed property. ... After my public silencing, people have been calling and asking me what I was going to say about the Lake Elkhorn tot lot that the CA did not want others to hear.

Here it is: The report from CA's consultant, for which [the association] reportedly paid $20,000, was seriously flawed. The report cited the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics on fencing tot lots as supporting the conclusion that no fence is needed at this tot lot. In fact, our guidelines state the opposite, that a fence is needed here for safety. I was to speak that evening as a pediatrician on behalf of the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MDAAP) on this issue.

Why the CA board chose this time to try and silence the MDAAP, it is hard to say. The CA has known about the flaws in the report on which it relies, for more than five months. The MDAAP met with [association] staff [members], at their request, to tell them about it and offered to help. We agree with them that there is no legal reason for them to fence this tot lot. We have even helped them look for regulations and laws specific for playgrounds and could not find them. Our issue with CA was specific to the consultants' report which misused our guidelines. Our guidelines say to put up a fence.

We realized that the CA had a problem. We asked National Safe Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing childhood injuries to help, too. We offered to set up an open forum with other organizations in the community that have similar problems to discuss safety issues and possible solutions. The CA has declined all offers and apparently continues to rely on the flawed report nonetheless.

Had I been allowed to speak, I was going to say that tragedies, such as the drowning death of Alex Ferrera, occur when multiple factors coincide. In this case, there was a playground sitting next to a hazard (an open body of water), a play area that was and is currently not fenced and a baby sitter who may have been distracted.

Had any one of those precipitating factors not occurred, the outcome would probably have been different; chances are this child would be alive. It is important to look at these factors to see what we could do differently in the future.

People on all sides say that parents and caretakers must watch their children. This is absolutely true; proper supervision is critical. Sometimes, though, people forget what it is like to have small children.

They push from their minds old memories from years ago, when their now-grown children were toddlers and they strayed from their sight.

They forget the horrifying terror as they searched for their child and the extraordinary relief when, finally, after what seemed like ages but may have been only minutes, they found the child. Fact is, even the best parents sometimes are distracted, and as a community we cannot prevent that. But, we can help to protect our children by making playgrounds safe, including fencing them when necessary.

Many people in the community have worked hard to bring the facts surrounding this matter to light, including two CA board members, Cindy Coyle and Barbara Russell. The MDAAP commends their efforts and reminds everyone, that it is not about winning or losing, it is about protecting our kids.

Diane McDonald, M.D. Ellicott City

The writer is chairman of the MDAAP Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine.

Relay for Life says thanks

Over 1,000 people attended this year's Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society's signature fundraising event, at Hammond High School on June 2-3. It truly illustrates what makes Howard County a great place to live and work. The participants included high school groups, youth groups, service clubs, churches, local business, government and families and friends coming together to raise $260,000.

The event was highlighted by a reception sponsored by Howard County General Hospital and Putting on the Ritz for 250 survivors, a Survivors' Lap and the lighting of 3,000 luminarias at dark.

Relay for Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported and that one day cancer will be eliminated. Monies from the event are used to support patient services, educational programs, research and advocacy programs within our community. There is no finish line until we find a cure.

The Relay for Life could not have happened without the support of our corporate sponsors, our 65-plus teams, Hammond High School and the public school system, county government and our many volunteers.

Thank you, Howard County, for your support.

Debra Wilkenloh Lori Evans

The writers are the 2006 Howard County Relay For Life co-chairwomen.

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