YOU Issue: Recess report

YOU Issue: Recess report

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What the hell happened to recess in our schools?—Rebecca Coleman Cooper

After her daughter had recess time taken away twice for talking during class, local mom Christa Bennett started a petition to end this punitive practice in city schools. And she thought it had worked.

The city’s school board approved a new wellness policy in September 2017—one that just won an award from the Virginia Department of Health—which mandates that teachers and administrators can not take away any recess, physical education, or physical activity as a form of discipline.

“I definitely consider getting this policy approved as a win,” says Bennett, who volunteers on the school’s health advisory board. “However, it is also true that taking away recess for punishment still happens. It happened in one of my daughter’s classes just today.”

The issue, she says, is that some teachers and administrators just don’t know the new policy.

The good news, she says, is that all of the principals are now aware of it, and “when approached with a parent’s concern, I’ve found that they’re able to work with the teacher to ensure recess isn’t taken away in the future.”

In city schools, kindergarteners now get extended play. The youngsters get two recess periods a day for a total of 45 minutes, according to schools spokesperson Beth Cheuk. From first to fourth grades, students get a minimum of 30 minutes of recess each day, and in fifth and sixth, they’re required to have at least 25 minutes of daily physical activity.

And how do we know that teachers are actually giving kids their recess time?

Cheuk says she spoke with one school secretary who “literally sees the kids on the playground, and watches a parade of them come into the office for bathroom breaks.” And other secretaries told her they routinely have to pull kids out of recess for early pickups. Principals and other administrators have eyes on all parts of the schools—including the playgrounds—to make sure teachers follow the master schedule.

“Bottom line: School secretaries know everything,” says Cheuk.

Over in the county schools, spokesperson Phil Giaramita says teachers don’t have the authority to take away recess time, though they don’t specifically have a policy that prohibits it. Kids in county schools get 20 minutes of recess per day, he adds.