Policy comes in many shapes and sizes. Some use the idea or comparison of BIG P and little p policy. A BIG P policy might be one that is at the state level, even one that is made into a law. Little p’s are smaller, possibly at the local government, or in the case of Safe Routes to School at the individual school level. In Tennessee we have a BIG P policy regarding shared use of recreational facilities in schools. The intent of this state level policy is to protect individual school districts when it comes to liability and allow them to feel at ease when sharing their schools gymnasiums, tracks and fields.
As members of the Tennessee State Network track these policies we are learning that in many cases there are many different kinds of little p’s within the BIG P. For example, in one school district, individual principals decide who can use their facilities, and in another, larger district, facilities can be reserved through an online system that allows the user to look at all the open buildings in their area. We’ve also discovered that no single policy, big or small, will guarantee safe continued use of the schools recreational facilities; education and encouragement are also needed to ensure the policy is implemented and that it is strong enough to last into the future.
We’ve learned along that way that both types of policy, BIG P and little p, help to guide and plan for the future to allow schools and communities to safely share recreational facilities. As we catalog the many shared use policy types across the state we are helping to make policies stronger by providing tool kits, tips and resources to insure that the policies use strong language, and we are helping those communities without a plan or policy in place to get started. By sharing best practices we are educating communities on the benefits of opening their facilities to the public and helping to clear up misconceptions regarding liability. We are recommending that the policy is the same from school to school within a district and that written agreements are established instead of just verbal ones.
In the case of Tennessee it is important that all levels of policy are created and implemented so that local school districts have the backing of the state law to keep the policies within the individual school districts (those little p’s) strong. The Safe Routes Partnership Policy Guide sums it up best: “Finally, it is important to remember that policy change takes time. Tracking, implementing, planning and educating are all important steps in the process of making safe healthy schools and communities.”