PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Unlike math, science, or English, recess isn’t a subject your children are graded on, but it’s become the subject of a debate that’s made it all the way to the state house.
The Rhode Island House of Representatives has approved a bill requiring that public schools provide children with 20 minutes of recess each day. It’s a victory for supporters, who argue recess is crucial to a child’s cognitive function. But opponents say requiring it by law comes with too many challenges.
So, is your child’s health recess at risk? The Academy of Pediatrics warned it was back in 2013 – as more and more American schools were joining a growing trend of spending more time on academics.
“We really think recess should be part of the school day guidelines,” said Tracy Ramos, a mom of two. She’s part of the group Parents Across Rhode Island, which is leading the charge to regulate recess in the state.
“People say all the time, ‘When I was a kid I had plenty of recess.’ But things are really different now,” said Ramos. “Younger kids now are under so much more pressure than we were.”
The coalition Recess for Rhode Island found that 10% of the state’s elementary school principals reported providing less than 10 minutes of recess per day, and 34% reported taking away recess as a punishment. Now in motion at the state house; a law requiring Kindergarten through 5th grade public school students get at least 20 minutes of free-play recess during the school day. It’s already passed the House. And Ramos says it’s about much more than exercise.
“It’s really about brain development,” she told us. “All of the studies show that recess is critical for allowing kids to maintain the kinds of attention and focus we expect of them in their academic career.”
In 2010, a Centers for Disease Control study found “Recess or physical breaks were associated with improvements in attention, concentration, on task classroom behavior and test scores.”
Tim Duffy is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees. While he acknowledges the benefits of recess, he doesn’t believe it should be required by law.
“The bill doesn’t provide for a penalty currently,” said Duffy. “So if schools are not adhering to it, if a teacher doesn’t adhere to it, either they don’t provide the 20 minutes or they use it as discipline, there’s no mechanism to say you can’t do that. So there’s no enforcement mechanism.”
Duffy also argued that not every school in the state has the facilities to provide recess during inclement weather. Rather than a law, Duffy says recess should be a regulation imposed not by lawmakers, but the Rhode Island Department of Education. That way, he says exceptions could be made. And penalties imposed.
“If a school district somehow discriminated against a particular class of students,” said Duffy, “They can withhold state aid. They have that right to do that.”
Ramos and a group of parents approached the Department of Education last fall with a petition of nearly 800 signatures. But RIDE voted not to impose the recess regulations, citing the state’s Basic Education Program. It requires that schools provide “daily recess opportunities,” but doesn’t specify how long that recess should be.
Representative Kathleen Fogarty of South Kingstown proposed the legislation. The Senate held a hearing on similar legislation in March, which was proposed by Senator Cynthia Coyne. In a statement, Coyne said in part, “A uniform statewide policy will ensure that the taking away of recess is not used as a punitive or academic measure, and that all children enjoy the benefits of free play recess.”
But after the hearing, the senate voted to hold the measure for further study. Governor Gina Raimondo isn’t sold on the legislation. A spokesperson for the Governor said,
“As a mother of three young children, she knows how important recess can be to helping kids stay focused during the day, but she does not believe that this situation is best handled by passing a law requiring a one-size-fits-all approach.
The Governor instead believes the decision should be handled by teachers, principals and parents on a school-by-school basis.”
We looked into neighboring states and found Massachusetts does not require recess by law. Connecticut, however, passed a recess bill in 2012. Just like the one being proposed here, it requires 20 minutes of recess per day and does not allow schools to take away recess as a punishment.
We’ll be tracking any new developments on Rhode Island’s recess bill, and of course will update you when they happen.