Arizona lawmakers, parents pushing to make recess mandatory in schools

Posted at 5:44 PM, Jan 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-30 07:33:34-05

A statewide effort is taking place to fight for your child's right to play the old-fashioned way: out in the open, with no structure. 

Arizona District 4 representative Jesus Rubalcava has introduced HB 2082, also known as the "Recess Bill" and it calls for a mandatory 50-minute recess at all schools.   

Rubalcava, who is also a special education teacher and served as a school board member for almost a decade, said he realized how important these breaks were not just for children — but also for teachers. 

He was inspired to act after hearing concerns from many parents who worried about very short recess times at their kids' schools.  

"Twenty minutes in a 7-hour day is just crazy to me," said Sandi O'Connor, a concerned mom who's children attended the Madison Elementary school District.  

Superintendent Quinn Kellis said the district had mandated a 20-minute break at all schools, but left it up to teachers to offer another recess during the day. 

Kellis said he was aware many teachers were hesitant to offer more breaks to students because of the pressures they were facing. 

"Certain the Arizona Merit or the state test, they want their kids to perform their best and there's some anxiety about having the kids ready," Kellis said. 

O'Connor explained that the latest research showed a correlation between movement, brain development, and test scores. Balanced students who got breaks often absorbed information better.

"I don't understand the fears, especially with all the research that shows classroom behavior will be better and far improved if we let them get their wiggles out as they say," O'Connor said.

She said her child often missed lunch at school just so he could go out and play.

Rep. Rubalcava said as a teacher, he understands the importance of recess.

"Our kids need time to be able to release energy," Rubalcava said. "Teachers also need time to hit the recess button. The attention span of a kid can only hold for a certain time. Breaks help kids re-focus and concentrate better."

He also worried about districts that had no recess at all.

"There are some districts that have no recess and some administrators who believe in teaching from bell to bell," he said.

Another parent, Karen Gresham agreed that children should get periodic breaks.

"It's hard for kids to sit all day and pay attention. Even adults can't do that," Gresham said.

Many schools had replaced old-fashioned playtime with classroom "brain breaks" or down time. 

Parents supporting the Recess bill said learning did not end when children left the classroom, what they learned on the playground was also important to their growth and development. Things like socializing and taking turns were also important lessons.

Opponents worried that including more breaks was taking away from instruction time and they would have to make up for it to get their courses in.

Parents opposing the recess bill felt they were sending their children to school to study and that they could play at home later.

SHAPE America, a national group that represented health and physical educators, sent ABC15 this statement in regards to the Recess Bill:

"Active' recess should be a priority for all schools in the U.S. as a way to boost academic performance, improve behavior, enhance emotional well-being, and contribute to physical literacy among students. A new toolkit developed by the CDC and SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, gives schools everything they need to make active recess a part of every school day.” 

You can get more information on their website.

The Recess Bill will be heard by the state's education committee at the state legislature on Monday at 2 p.m.  Advocates invite all parents who are invested in this issue to show up and speak, or just be there to offer their support.