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30-minute recess bill passes state House

  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • Mar. 11, 2017 - 7:26 AM

A bill to require 30 minutes of daily recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade has overwhelmingly passed the Georgia House of Representatives and is now before the state senate.

House Bill 273 requires an “average of 30 minutes per day of supervised unstructured activity time, preferably outdoors.” Under the bill, recess would not be required on any day on which a student has physical education or structured activity time.

The bill states that local boards of education shall establish written policies to ensure that recess is safe, that it is scheduled so that it provides a break during academic learning and that recess is not withheld as a punishment.

The bill also requires boards of education to establish written policies related to unstructured break time for grades six through eight.

The Coweta County School System currently has a policy that provides for a 15-minute recess each day for grades K-5.

Principals at each school are responsible for setting regulations on the timing of the breaks, said Dean Jackson, public information officer for Coweta County Schools.

Under the policy, breaks may be withheld from students for disciplinary or academic reasons if proper notice is provided to the student, and if it doesn’t interfere with behavioral plans and Individual Education Plans.

Several local moms expressed support for the bill.

“With three little ones, I know how important it is for them to have their own time to have unstructured play where they can get out bottled-up energy and socialize and enjoy the fresh air,” said Amanda Harry. “It makes a night and day difference and kids that age NEED this. It is just as important to their development as any other part of the school day.”

“Fifteen minutes isn’t enough time to get started playing good,” said Jennifer Cureton. “Sometimes my boys tell me it’s cut even shorter because they ‘have’ to get back to class to finish work.

“I think there should be mandatory PE and a longer recess every day like when I was growing up. You never heard of ADHD back then,” Cureton said. “I think a lot of the problems in school are due to making them sit too long.”

There were differing opinions about withholding recess from students as punishment.

Whitney Arce said her daughter has struggled to stay focused and sit still in kindergarten because she has a lot of energy.

“Kids need more recess and need physical education every day,” Arce said. “Withholding recess should never be used for disciplinary action. This only makes it harder for them to focus throughout the day.”

Laell Tucker said her child also gets in trouble for not sitting still in class. “Taking away recess doesn’t help them, it only causes more built-up energy. They expect children to sit still and be quiet for too long in school, but don’t give them enough time to get out their energy,” she said.

“It kills me that my three school-age kids get 15 minutes and then get sent home with teacher complaints of my child ‘fidgeting too much’ or ‘not focusing on school work,’ said Cierra Gellatly. “Let the children get their energy out.”

“A child who is often getting in trouble is usually the child who needs recess and an energy release the most,” Gellatly said. “To take that away from them is just asking for more problems.”

“Schools might actually see behavior improve because they get more recess,” said Melissa Warren.

Using recess as a punishment should be up to the teacher’s discretion, said Caley Ann Wiley. Teachers know why kids are getting into trouble and “who simply needs to get their wiggles out,” she said. She doesn’t want to take more disciplinary strength away from teachers.

“We have taken all power away from our teachers, yet we expect them to keep control,” Wiley said.

Catherine Skinner said her daughter once went on a rebellious spree, and the teacher asked if she would be OK with taking recess away for a few days. “I backed her up 100 percent,” Skinner said.

“Physical activity, whether structured or unstructured is so important,” said Sarah Armstrong. “If both are offered daily, I’m not necessarily opposed to recess, or a portion of recess, being taken away for punishment. Sometimes it’s warranted.”

HB 273 passed the house by a vote of 147 to 17. Three of Coweta’s representatives were in favor: Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, David Stover, R-Palmetto, and Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville.

Josh Bonner, R-Peachtree City, voted against the bill.

Bonner said that, when he assesses legislation, “I attempt to determine if a bill is addressing an actual problem. No one could cite for me specific examples of our schools not providing adequate time for physical activity,” he said. “I believe a mandate of this nature by the state is unnecessary.”