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A Texas School District Plans to Mandate Daily Recess for Elementary Students

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Elementary students in Austin, Texas, may soon get to enjoy 30 minutes of unrestricted recess every day.

Right now, administrators in the Austin Independent School District are just trying to figure out how to make it happen.

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Elementary schools in the district are required to provide 135 minutes of physical education or structured physical activity each week, but currently there is no policy on the books regarding recess. So the decision to offer recess was left up to individual schools.

Edmund Oropez is the district's chief officer for teaching and learning. He said that just as it's important for adults to have time to relax and socialize during the work day, kids need some unstructured time, too.

"That increases productivity, increases intellectual capacity, so we're feeling that unrestricted recess will do the same for our children," said Oropez. "We're also a district that's social-emotional learning committed, and we believe that this also folds well into educating the whole child."

But to make 30 minutes of daily recess happen, Oropez said, the district has to work on getting buy-in from the staff at the schools. He explained that adding more time for recess might seem counterintuitive to staff members at first.

"Some people still believe that kids should be reading all day long or doing math all day long, and that's going to create a more productive child and increase student achievement," said Oropez.

Each elementary school in the district will also have to contend with the logistics of making schedule changes. Some schools have already made the change, and Oropez said their schedules will be provided to other schools as examples.

This proposed schedule change comes as more parents around the country are demanding unstructured playtime for elementary students. A new law in Rhode Island mandates 20 consecutive minutes of recess a day for students in kindergarten through 6th grade. Earlier this year, some parents in Florida tried unsuccessfully to get their state legislature to pass a similar law.

In 2013, amid concerns that schools were cutting time for recess in favor of time for more academic work, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement contending that, "safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits." And some schools are experimenting with offering multiple recess periods a day in the hopes of improving students' academic performance.

Members of the local teachers' union, Education Austin, pushed for required time for recess, and last March, the district's health advisory council recommended 30 minutes of unrestricted recess for elementary students. The council also recommended that teachers not be allowed to take away recess as punishment or for academic reasons. A group of principals, teachers, and community members then took a look at these recommendations and decided this was something the district should pursue.

But district leaders still have to figure out how to put this policy in place. Oropez said they're trying to determine if this issue has to be taken before the school board or if it can be handled administratively.

He said he expects the 30-minute recess mandate to go into effect sometime late this fall.

Photo: Students socialize during recess at Winn Elementary School in Austin, TX. (Credit: Austin Independent School District)

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