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Decision Florida: Legislation Doesn't Necessarily Bring Back Recess

Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee. Source: WikiMedia Commons
Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee. Source: WikiMedia Commons

Recess used to be something you could count on at school. Not anymore. Florida lawmakers are weighing a bill that would require 20 minutes of recess, five days a week in elementary school. But legislating recess may not guarantee it.

Even when school districts have policies on the books, plenty of students don’t get recess.

Aimee Ledesma says it’s the same way in her daughter’s class. She says if one kid acts up the whole class has to stay inside. Miami-Dade County and Broward are two of the only school districts in Florida that do require some recess. Both district’s’ policies say you can’t use recess as a way to punish kids.

Parents and teachers say that’s exactly what’s happening from wealthy zip codes, like Pinecrest Elementary’s, to schools next door to public housing. Some kids aren’t getting recess at all.

Eight-year-old Luis Martinez goes to  Lenora K Smith elementary. The last time he went to recess was when he lived in another state. His Florida classmates are now used to not having recess, he said.

“This has become an issue that has risen to such a level, it seems like unless there’s a state mandate, it won’t happen,” said Sen. Antiere Flores, who filed Senate Bill 79.

“Parents say, and I agree, that sometimes they’ve taken the fun out of school.”

Flores credits advocacy by so-called “Recess Moms” with getting her to introduce a recess bill in the first place.

WLRN called and emailed principals at a half dozen schools where parents voiced complaints about recess. None agreed to an interview. Anna Fusco is Broward Teachers’ Union president last year. She was an elementary school teacher until last year. Sometimes schools schedule recess but it doesn’t actually happen, said Fusco.

Classroom schedules have become more and more tightly managed. There are guides that spell out the lesson of the day, standardized tests that track goals for the year, and there’s software struggling students are supposed to use to catch up.

“A kindergarten teacher said to me, ‘I haven’t taken my babies out for recess in months,’ said Fusco.  “Because there’s so much for them to need to get done—and they don’t even take the FSA.”

The FSA is the statewide test for 3-10th graders.  Schools around the country have cut back on recess since 2001. That’s when the federal law, No Child Left Behind, mandated standardized testing in all 50 states.

Fusco worries that even making recess state law might not change much. For school districts so much hinges on how students do on the FSA such as teacher pay, some funding, even property values.

“At the end of the year, when they’re talking about student test scores attached to teacher evaluations, and when they’ve got cities breathing down their necks, about why do we have D and F schools in this community,” said Fusco. “What’s going on?”

Stephanie Aring said she sees the cost of cutting recess when she visits her second grader’s school in Kendall. “To me, these kids are wound up so tight they’re about to snap,” said Aring.

She appreciates how creative the teachers are in trying to break up the day inside classroom, “like so they’ll stand in front of their desk and do Zumba for kids,” she said, “or they’ll do yoga or meditation. But they need to run around and not have you telling them how to do it.”

On paper, Aring said her daughter’s schedule shows recess for 15 minutes a week, on Fridays. Recently, she went to ask school administrators about it. She learned that they haven’t had recess at all this year.

Aring said they told her skipping recess violates district policy and they vowed to look into it. Two weeks later, though, her second grader says still no recess.