The city of Asheville Parks and Recreation Department and Asheville City Schools plan to improve the softball field located on the school playground at Vance Elementary. Neither the city nor ACS has made any effort to involve our school community in plans for this project, and many of us have serious concerns about it. Superintendent Denise Patterson states that the project will promote gender equality through compliance with Title IX [avl.mx/5pc]. We recognize there is a Title IX issue at ACS, but we disagree that limiting access to a space for free, unencumbered play for elementary school children on their own campus is the answer.
The proposed project calls for a permanent 6- to 8-foot chain-link fence to be installed around the perimeter of the softball field, as well as for other field improvements. The field would be used for high school women’s softball practice and games, and would be open to any group wanting to use the field. The proposed fence will be a few feet from the existing playground and will bisect the open field students use daily for soccer and free play, as well as for special events, outdoor instruction and after-school programs.
ACS has stated that students will still have access to the open field through gates in the fence. Yet this “access” will decrease an already inadequate space. Furthermore, it will be a significant challenge for teachers to supervise children of varying ages on two sides of a fence.
Standardized testing and increasingly high-pressure academic milestones are already forcing our children to grow up more quickly than they should. Bisecting their space for free play — a space where they can really be kids for a short 30 minutes a day — only worsens this distressing scenario.
As parents, community members and taxpayers, we insist that our concerns about this project be heard and respected. Just as importantly, the needs of more than 400 students at Vance Elementary have not been taken into account in this process. The city and ACS should delay project construction until a robust public involvement process can take place. We believe the interests of the Vance community, ACS and the city can be aligned on this project, but only if the Vance community can participate in the design.
— Carrie Turner and Amy Hales
Parents of Vance Elementary School students
Editor’s note: Xpress contacted ACS and the city of Asheville for a response to the points raised in the letter. We received the following response from Superintendent Denise Patterson: “There’s apprehension, confusion and frustration regarding changes to the longtime softball field at Vance. We hear you. Yes, we should’ve required more details, shared them earlier and requested feedback. Yes, ideally our high school would have an on-site softball field. Our goal: Continue offering safe supervised play and event areas for Vance students while delivering long-overdue Title IX equity for female high school students. We have an opportunity to achieve this through a partnership with Asheville Parks and Recreation, further leveraging our resources in service to 4,300 K-12 students at 10 schools. Next steps: You’re invited to speak during public comment at Monday’s Board of Education meeting [avl.mx/5pd]; we’ll share detailed ongoing updates via email and displays at Vance and request feedback.”
According to ACS’ website, the Board of Education’s work session — with opportunity for public comment — starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18 (following a 5 p.m. closed session), in the boardroom at 85 Mountain St.