News: New Public School Holidays, Playground Safety, Kids' Volunteering Opportunties, Will You Go Screen-free This Weekend?

3/4/15 - By Alina Adams

Although park weather feels like it's still a ways off, it will come eventually, so the city is examining all our playground equipment in an effort to prevent accidents (and lawsuits). Another new city policy: Expect some new public school holidays on the calendar next academic year. Plus, we've got the scoop on a cool volunteering opportunity for teens, a day dedicated to no screen-time, high-school placements for next fall, a big move for a little urban farm and more.


New school holidays & rules Starting next academic year, in addition to major Christian and Jewish holidays, NYC public schools will be closed for a pair of Muslim holidays, Eid al-Adha (in fall) and Eid al-Fitr (in summer, so it only affects summer school students). Mayor De Blasio is also considering closing schools on the Lunar New Year, but that hasn't been decided. The Department of Education said schools won't use instructional days for these holidays, so it will be interesting to see if this affects the first day of classes. For 2015, Eid al-Adha falls on Thursday, September 24, the day after Yom Kippur, a longtime school holiday.

Another big NYC public school change: the cell phone ban has been lifted (but if you have a tween or teen at home, you knew that already). As of this past Monday, March 2, schools are able to set their own cell phone rules, whether students are allowed to have them in class (hopefully with the ringers turned off) or must hide them away in lockers and book bags. What policy has your school set? Tell us in the comments!

Pay to play? Over the past ten years, the city has doled out more than $20 million in playground injury lawsuits. As a result, Comptroller Scott Stringer has launched a data-driven, due diligence initiative to identify and fix problem playgrounds before swinging and sliding season begins this spring. Brooklyn playgrounds have the highest number of claims against them, followed by Manhattan, with many complaints centering on now-removed spinning discs. We're all for improving safety, we just hope it's not at the expense of engaging equipment.

Volunteering opportunities Students in grades 10 to 12 can do some good (and enhance their college applications) with DOROT's FREE Summer Teen Internship Program. The nonprofit hosts two four-week sessions when teens can visit and help feed the elderly and housebound, as well as participate in intergenerational arts activities like theater, documentary filmmaking or photography. Only 18 students are chosen for each session. Interested teens can apply online.

Younger kids looking to make a difference can sign up for Rafi's Run, which takes place this Sunday March 8 at 10am in Riverside Park. This annual fundraiser to combat Epidermolysis bullosa was started by friends of a little girl with the condition, which causes skin to constantly tear and blister. Rafi's Run features a five-kilometer run and a kids’ fun run, plus snacks and live music. To sign up or just sponsor a runner, visit

On the move... The educational Battery Urban Farm, which we raved about last summer, has temporarily moved to a new section of Battery Park due to bikeway construction. For now, the farm is located in a smaller, 20,000-square-foot space around the Labyrinth. The so-called Forest Farm will feature more than 50 plant varieties, including edibles like berries and veggies, plus medicinal plants and native flowers. Although programming has been scaled back, there will still be volunteering opportunities and hands-workshops once the farm opens for the season. The farm hopes to move back to its original location come 2016. One other sad change: longtime Battery Park resident turkey, Zelda, passed away in the fall.

Media matters For 24 hours starting this Friday at sundown, nonprofit Common Sense Media is endorsing a National Day of Unplugging, urging families to spend 24 hours disconnected from all high-tech devices and connected to each other. The goal is to have parents model healthy media habits for their children (because we may be even more addicted than our kids!).

Meanwhile, YouTube recently unveiled a new kids' app that reportedly curates content appropriate for children ages 2 and up. In my household, that app has always been called Mom. Although it sounds like a novel (not to mention no-brainer) idea, Common Sense Media highlights some of its drawbacks, including kid-targeted ads.

High-school news...or lack thereof High school placements for NYC's 8th graders are supposed to be revealed in "early March." Even though those letters haven't shown up as of this writing, they must be on their way since the Department of Education has already scheduled a second-round high school fair for the weekend of March 14-15 for students who didn't get in anywhere or those unhappy with where they ended up. In the past, new schools have usually had empty seats, but no new high-schools are scheduled to open in September 2015, meaning that this year, it may be harder than usual to secure a spot at a quality second-choice school.