However, schools across Oklahoma — fearful of costly lawsuits and damage to property and the potential drain this could have to already strained budgets — have begun to lock their doors and turn out their lights after school ends each day.
It’s our schoolchildren and our future that suffer because of this. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults and 65 percent of adolescents do not get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. According to a recent study, greater physical activity is directly linked to better academic achievement in middle school students. As such, it’s critical to find ways to increase physical activity opportunities in the places where people live, work, learn and play and meeting people where they are.
Increasing access to recreational facilities already in existence at schools has emerged as one of the most promising strategies for building more opportunities for Oklahoma children and families.
This promise is rooted in the realization that even the most poorly designed and under-served neighborhoods include schools. In an era of never-ending budget shortfalls, maximizing access to existing facilities — rather than trying to construct new ones — is the most efficient and economical use of public resources.
The Shared Use Project seeks to educate Oklahomans about the importance of connecting schools and communities through the use of shared use agreements. Shared use legislation championed by Gov. Mary Fallin, the American Heart Association and the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition was passed last year by the state Legislature. That measure helped remove the fear of lawsuits for schools by further limiting the liability placed on a school that opens its facility for recreational purposes.
Increasing the number of shared use agreements throughout our state offers school districts the opportunity to open their facilities for community use and show the value they bring to communities. It also paves the way for greater access to school property by allowing the district to share with another community group the costs associated with keeping their lights on and doors unlocked for after-hours use.
It’s time for more schools to keep their lights on and their doors open. The Shared Use Project helps shape a more safe and healthy Oklahoma for generations to come.
If you’d like to help your school be a place where the community can get fit but you’re not sure where to start, visit fitkidsok.org.
Davidson is a volunteer with the Advocacy American Heart Association SouthWest Affiliate. She is also its former government relations director.
Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.