Daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools is now law. What will that look like when the first bell rings in August? It’s still unclear – but it doesn’t have to be outside, according to a one-page memo to superintendents that went out last week.
“This law does not specify the location where recess must be provided. The recess minutes could be provided indoors or outdoors,” the memo from the State Department of Education reads.
It’ll be up to the school district or even principals at each campus to iron out details.
And that’s just the way the parents who pushed for this law for the last two years want it.
“That means excuses like ‘We don’t have the space’ or ‘It’s raining outside’ aren’t an excuse,” said Angela Browning, a mother of three from Orlando and a leader among the so-called recess moms.
“We realized that saying it had to be outdoors wasn’t realistic. We didn’t want to micromanage, we wanted to set expectations and leave implementation to the schools and teachers,” Browning said.
But what truly pleases Browning and her fellow parents who made seemingly endless pre-dawn excursions from Orange County to Tallahassee to advocate for free-play in the school day is another line in that memo – the one that directs each superintendent to sign an assurance that the recess mandate is being met in his or her school district.
That assurance is due to the state by Sept.1 of the school year.
Palm Beach County School District Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald said he was hoping for more guidance from the state, but the five paragraphs issued Friday may be all he gets.
WHERE DOES RECESS FIT INTO THE DAY? And other questions
Wednesday, Oswald and his staff tried to address some of the biggest questions, including:
How will teachers squeeze 20 consecutive minutes of free play into an already packed day?
The elementary school day in Palm Beach County is six hours and five minutes long – the brevity of which has been a sore point for Superintendent Robert Avossa.
Oswald offered principals two sample schedules.
The samples manages 20 minutes in a day while still offering , an hour of math, 150 minutes of reading and language arts, a 30 minute lunch, as well as fine arts and P.E. In one schedule recess time was found by shaving 20 minutes from science or social studies on any given day.
Another alternately pulled from science or social studies twice a week and from the hour long writing block three days a week.
“It’s been a challenge. Obviously something’s going to have to give. We don’t want to cut fine arts. We believe in enrichment for the kids, and we need to feed our kids too,” Oswald said. Schools also must contend with state law required 150 minutes a week of PE and requirements for reading and language arts. “That leaves core academics, so we are going to have to look carefully at the quality of time.”
Timing was a common concern Browning and recess advocates heard throughout their campaign.
Their first go at legislation in 2016 failed. And in the year that followed, Browning’s group representing parents in multiple districts went back to their school boards seeking local policy changes.
Three counties: Orange, Pinellas and Manatee acquiesced.
Pinellas’ school day is just as short as Palm Beach County’s and they’ve made it work, said Browning, whose three sons are in elementary school in Orange County, where school is 6 hours and 15 minutes long on every day but Wednesday, when school dismisses an hour earlier.
The failure of any other districts to make change on their own proved to be ammunition for the parents backing recess.
“We were very clear. We felt this should’ve been handled locally, but when they didn’t , that’s when it’s incumbent for our legislators to step in,” Browning said.
IT’S ALL PART OF HB 7069
In the spring, lawmakers delivered the recess guarantee as part of the massive education package known as House Bill 7069, which covered everything from eliminating the Algebra 2 end-of-course exam for high schoolers to teacher bonuses.
The law, however, is in the crosshairs of public educators, including Avossa, because of what they contend is its generosity to charter schools at the expense of district coffers.
When it comes to mandated recess, charter schools are exempt.
But beginning with the new school year, each district-run school must offer 20 consecutive minutes of recess, which must be unstructured free-play as opposed to say games directed by a teacher.
District policy has long recommended, but not required, schools offer daily recess. By parent accounts the reality varied from class to class and school to school. They have told the school board that teachers have leveraged recess, threatening to withhold it for bad behavior or offer it only as a treat for good behavior, etc. That is no longer an option.