Overview

On October 19, 2018, a child died after suffering a serious head injury while playing on the playground at Park Side Preschool in Newark, CA. This page collects what information is known about how it happened and how Park Side is responding.

This site is not affiliated with Park Side Preschool or its staff. If you have any additional information, please reach out through the contact page. Every effort is made the ensure the information on this site is accurate, but please reach out if there are any errors.

This summary was last updated on 3/26/2019 and will be updated as additional information becomes available. You can also see all the latest news here.

What happened?

The victim was in a tire swing along with two other children.

From Park Side: The A frame with the swing still attached fell backwards on the ground. The children fell to the ground while still on the swing and sadly [victim] hit her head. The children on the swing were all being supervised by a teacher at the time of the accident1

How could that happen?

The short version is that an substandard swing frame was used, without any anchoring to the ground, and without any of the required padding that’s intended to prevent fatal head injuries.

Tell me about the swing frame

The frame was never intended for use in a preschool setting. It was purchased and installed about two weeks before the incident. Brackets were purchased online and combined with local lumber. A volunteer without any documented relevant expertise assembled and installed the frame.2

The manufacturer states in the instructions that non-residential use is prohibited.3 When asked over the phone, the manufacturer stated that their swing sets are not certified to any safety standards, whether for home (ASTM F1148) or public (ASTM F1487) use.4

Tell me about safety standards

Various organizations produce safety standards for playgrounds. The CPSC (a federal agency) makes a free Public Playground Safety Handbook. ASTM (an industry trade group) makes standards for strength testing, cushioning, for playgrounds as well as many other materials and products. The CPSC and ASTM standards themselves are voluntary, but are the best practices for reducing injury. A lot of attention is given to preventing fatal head injuries.

California Health and Safety Code requires preschool playgrounds to follow these guidelines, and get an inspection from a Certified Playground Safety Inspector before using new equipment.

How did the swing fall over?

Park Side has stressed that the frame is marketed as a freestanding model. The manufacturer sells kits to anchor the frame into the ground, and says to anchor “when bigger kids will be swinging.” Park Side has not answered whether any anchoring was used, but CCLD reports that there was no anchoring.

Without anything holding the frame to the ground, it’s not hard for me to imagine three kids on a tire swing toppling it over.

Is anchoring really not required?

Anchoring is required for all preschool playgrounds in California. Park Side has been issued a citation for not anchoring the swing frame.

What about padding?

Padding is required under and around playground equipment in preschools. The padding thickness required depends on the material used and how tall the swing it. As a general guide,5 6” of rubber mulch would be enough for a typical swing, or 12” of wood mulch (which would compress to 9” over time).

Park Side has refused to answer questions about what kind of padding was used, or if any was used at all, but has been issued a citation for installing the swing frame over compacted dirt earth without any padding. Without any padding, it’s not hard for me to imagine how a fall could lead to serious injury.

(Updated 11/25/2018) Park Side has claimed that mulch was on order,6 but has not explained why the swing was in use before required safety features were installed. An email from the director to the parent volunteer installer, sent the afternoon before the incident, clearly shows that she knew mulch was needed but was allowing children to use the swing anyways.

Did anyone warn Park Side about the risk?

Yes. A parent was looking into what ground cover would be needed to safely install the equipment. She realized she did not have the needed expertise to do it correctly. In an email to Park Side’s director, she warned about the need to have the right depth of materials and anchoring, that a child could be hurt if done incorrectly, and suggest an expert be consulted. The director replied “I know … what to do for safety and licensing purposes”.

Two months later, the swing was installed with no safety features and no licensing.

Who approved the installation?

Unknown.

What about the required inspections?

Per Health and Safety Code 115725(c), a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) must inspect any new equipment in preschools. Park Side has claimed that the frame was inspected by somebody, but has refused to provide any evidence or clarify if anyone other than volunteer who installed the frame inspected it. CCLD reports indicates that they did not perform an inspection on the swing before use.

Doesn’t somebody regulate preschools?

Yes. California’s Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division (CCLD) regulates preschools. They regularly visit preschools to check that they’re following the rules.

CCLD has confirmed7 that they met with Park Side’s director shortly after the incident. Park Side has hinted8 that they have confidential reports from CCLD. When asked for details, Park Side indicated they were trying to get more reports.9.

On 10/27/2018, Park Side claimed that CCLD found no issues with the swing. CCLD reports10 in that timeframe indicated that no citations were issued, not that no issues were found. On 11/1/2018, CCLD issued two Type A citations (for “immediate risk to the health, safety or personal rights of those in care”) related to the swing frame.

(Updated 3/12/2019) On 2/27/2019 CCLD began the process to revoke Park Side’s license to operate. Park Side has told parents they will not contest the revocation and will close down. Park Side will remain in operation in the meantime.

(Updated 3/26/2019) Despite saying they wouldn’t, Park Side has filed an appeal to contest the revocation action. A hearing is scheduled for June 10.

So if CCLD came by, the playground must be safe now, right? (updated 11/28/2018)

On 11/25/2018, over a month after the incident, Park Side released the first detailed reports on the safety conditions of the main playground, prepared by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI). After correcting a number of issues, including adding mulch to the required 6” depth and removing deficient play equipment, the main playground now complies with CPSC and ASTM standards for public playgrounds.

Park Side originally claimed that CCLD did not find any issues with the tire swing frame or its installation. But later CCLD ordered Park Side to remove the frame, and cited them for the lack of anchoring and padding. Park Side then claimed that CCLD had inspected the rest of the playground right after the incident, but the CCLD report shows no inspection.

On 11/14/2018 CCLD issued another citation to Park Side for “maintenance-related hazards” which are “a potential threat to the health and safety to children in care.”

Park Side initially refused parent requests for an inspection from a qualified playground safety expert, but agreed on 11/7/2018 to arrange one. The initial inspection found a number of issues, but Park Side corrected them and the playground passed upon reinspection.

The inner courtyard near the preschool bathrooms, with additional play structures, still has not been inspected.

What about the police? (added 1/21/2019)

The Newark Police Department was among the first responders for the initial 911 call, and has been investigating since. As of mid-January 2019, the investigation is “still active and ongoing” according to Detective Andrew Musantry.

Is the family taking legal action? (added 1/21/2019)

Yes. In mid-January 2019 the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Park Side Preschool and director Heather Mitchell. You can read the filing here.

The suit seeks damages in an unspecified amount and leaves the door open to add more defendants. It alleges that Park Side Preschool and Heather Mitchell directly caused the death by negligence. Specifically, the suit says the defendants constructed the swing without anchoring or padding, knew or should have known it was dangerous, but still allowed children to play on it.

How will Park Side keep this from happening again? (updated 11/28/2018)

Assorted procedure updates, including a designated safety officer role, were discussed at a board meeting on 11/12/2018. Parents were not invited to attend this meeting. No agenda or minutes have been released, but Mike Marzano has offered his impressions.

Park Side has also said that they will get inspected annually by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector from Safe 2 Play. Additionally, if they are “are adding or making adjustments to the playground [Park Side] will be using this company and notifying licensing of our future requests.”

What can I do? (added 11/9/2018)

Be a safety advocate for your own playground. See Safety Tips for some ideas.

  1. 10/27/2018 email from Heather Mitchell
  2. 10/29/2018 memo from Mike Marzano; installer is identified as a “local school district employee knowledgeable about playground equipment.” The employer is irrelevant and every parent is “familiar with playground equipment.
  3. See owners manual
  4. 11/2/2018 voicemail from Eastern Jungle Gym
  5. Please consult with an expert before using these numbers
  6. Mike Marzano stated this during a parent meeting on 11/5/2018
  7. 10/22/2018 Facility Evaluation Note
  8. 10/27/2018 email, “other reports are not at our liberty to share”
  9. 10/29/2018 memo, “working to gain access”, “report is not complete”
  10. See 10/22/2018 Facility Evaluation Report