Fairfax does not stipulate how long recess should be

On February 27 I requested a copy of any written policy on the subject of recess in the elementary schools in Fairfax County Public Schools and any instructions to elementary school principals regarding recess. On March 14, I received a reply from Brandynn Reaves, Public Information Specialist, Department of Communications & Community Outreach.

It is significant that there is currently no written directive about the length of time that should be allowed for recess. However, we need to keep in mind that the number of hours in the current elementary school week only allows enough time for a maximum of 10 minutes per day of recess while still meeting the state requirements for the length of time in the standard school day.

Here is the information on the FCPS policy regarding recess:

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Standards of Accreditation require a daily recess but the length of that recess or its location is not stipulated.  The Code of Virginia §22.1-207 states that physical and health education shall be emphasized throughout the public school curriculum by lessons, drills and physical exercises, and all pupils in the public elementary, middle, and high schools shall receive as part of the educational program such health instruction and physical training as shall be prescribed by the Board of Education and approved by the State Board of Health.  Here is a link to the code:  http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+22.1-207.

Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) Regulation 5008.2 addresses recess in elementary schools.  It states that “Elementary schools provide daily recess that promotes physical activity beyond physical education classes.”  For your convenience here is a link to the regulation: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fairfax/Board.nsf/files/8JYHAH478D58/$file/R5008.pdf.

Additional information about Fairfax County Public School’s Health and Physical Education program can be found at: http://www.fcps.edu/is/hpe/index.shtml.

The Office of Safety and Security (OSS) encourages teachers and administrators at elementary schools to create a safe and fun environment for recess.  When the weather is inclement or when there are extremes in temperature, FCPS will often issue warnings to administrators regarding air quality or student safety.  Here is a link to the OSS’ Cold Weather Safety Sheet: http://www.fcps.edu/fts/safety-security/publications/seh-23.pdf.  FCPS’ OSS also publishes a Safety Rules for Outdoor Recess Fact Sheet (SAF-2) and the Playground Supervision Guidelines for Staff and Volunteers Fact Sheet (SAF-33) which can be found on the OSS General School Safety Fact Sheet website.

School administrators are also reminded that the school grounds (to include the playgrounds) should be inspected daily by custodial staff to determine whether any vandalism or significant safety issues have occurred overnight. On playgrounds, school staff should be noting playground equipment or ground cover in need of repair or replenishment.

Student physical activity bill passes Virginia Senate

Today the Virginia Senate passed a rather modest bill (SB155) that would require schools to provide a program of physical activity available to all students in grades kindergarten through five consisting of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year. There is additional language referring to grades six through 12, but I’m not clear what it means.

Here is how the bill would amend the current law:

A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia, relating to public schools; physical activity requirement.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. That § 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:

§ 22.1-253.13:1. Standard 1. Instructional programs supporting the Standards of Learning and other educational objectives. ….

D. Local school boards shall also implement the following: ….

15. A program of physical fitness activity available to all students in grades kindergarten through five consisting of at least 20 minutes per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year and available to all students in grades six through 12 with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year. Such program may include any combination of (i) physical education classes, (ii) extracurricular athletics, or (iii) recess, or (iv) other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of implement such program during the regular school year.

I do not understand what the bill means in saying “available to all students in grades six through 12.” I do know that the last portion of this sentence doesn’t actually require anything. Fairfax County and other school districts know that “goal” is a legislative code word for “not required.”

The language regarding 150 minutes of physical activity per week as a goal has been in the Code of Virginia for several years and Fairfax and other school districts pay no attention to “goals” that are not actually requirements. (Actually, Fairfax even ignores some requirements–I have often mentioned that most Fairfax elementary schools don’t meet the requirements for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation.)

The provisions of this act would become effective beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. Virginia already requires daily recess. Recess alone could satisfy the requirements of the bill, and it is not terribly ambitious to state that recess or other physical activities should last at least 20 minutes per day. According to PilotOnline.com, “Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, asked Miller whether he would consider putting an emergency clause on the bill, an amendment to make it effective much sooner. Miller said he wouldn’t.”

Saslaw represents my district and I agree with him that the implementation would be delayed too long.

Recess and physical education are making a comeback

Recess and physical education are making a comeback, according to the PBS News Hour.

Making time for regular physical activity in school is precisely what a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine is advocating. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School indicates students may benefit academically and become healthier in general.

“It does impact the brain,” said Jayne Greenberg, the District Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy for Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and a member of the committee that produced the report. “It does impact speed of cognitive processing, attention, memory and hence enabling the student to become more physically active is correlated to better academic performance.”

Tonight I spoke in favor of better school schedules

Here are my notes for my testimony at the Fairfax County School Board’s public hearing on the FY 2015 Advertised Budget–

Provide Better School Schedules

 Provide later start times for high school students

Budget for the lowest cost option being studied by the consultants

Restructure the elementary school schedule

End the Monday early dismissal policy.

Provide a uniform school day of six hours and 40 minutes each day for students.

Don’t decrease the number of instructional assistants in the elementary schools, increase them. [The Proposed Budget gives an expenditure reduction of $2.4 million for 69 fewer IAs, including reduction in general education, class size increases and reduction in needs-based staffing in all grade levels.]

Increase the number of physical education teachers.

Give all students 90 minutes of P.E. per week.

Keep the current FLES teachers, but allow the classroom teachers to have planning time during the foreign language classes.

Give schools which do not have FLES the option of adding it to their schedule or adding 60 minutes of instruction by other specialists in subjects such as math, reading, or science.

Provide a minimum of 5 hours of planning time per week within the student day for every full-time teacher.

Cut some costs

Eliminate the Priority Schools Initiative ($4.6 million)

Increase the reduction in “needs-based” staffing by another $12 ½ million. FCPS spends approximately $51.5 million on needs-based staffing. The Proposed Budget reduces this staffing by 164.8 positions, for a savings of $12.5 million.

Total reduction in costs compared to the Proposed Budget = $17 million

Let’s apply this savings to improving our school schedules.

Ending Monday early dismissals can be cost-free

Fairfax County will need to provide full-day Mondays for the elementary school students next year in order to comply with the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation  for the standard school day. This can be done at no cost by simply changing the bus schedules to the Tuesday through Friday schedule.

Teachers could keep their same contract hours of 7.5 hours per day, which are the contract hours in most other local school districts.

Several past proposals to provide full-day Mondays for the students were coupled with plans to provide additional specialists (in subjects such as physical education, art, music, etc.) or additional instructional assistants. This would be nice to have for the benefit of the students as well as allowing classroom teachers to have additional planning time within the student day.

Over the past 25 years there have been four proposals to provide full-day Mondays for all elementary school students while providing alternative planning time for classroom teachers.  One proposal would have cost $3.6 million. It was criticized as being too cheap. The other proposals ranged in cost from $5.6 million to $13 million. These proposals were rejected as too expensive. I have mentioned one other elementary school schedule option that blends some of the other proposals; however, this is just one example of the type of change that could be made.

Another method of providing full-day Mondays in Fairfax County was used in 15 of the 16 Project Excel Schools.  These 15 schools added an additional seven percent to the salaries of the teachers, librarians, counselors, and instructional assistants and added a half-hour to their workday. Instead of having a contract for 6.5 hours when the students were in school plus an additional hour before and after school  for planning, meetings, and activities, these staff members were asked stay 1.5 hours in school when students were not there. So instead of a 7.5-hour contract day, they had an 8-hour contract day.

In the 2007-8 school year, the cost of the seven percent extra salary for the teachers, counselors, librarians was $5.7 million.  Due to this high cost, the Fairfax County School Board phased out Project Excel. It could be that in future years Fairfax may want to consider an 8-hour contract day for all teachers at all grade levels. However, under no circumstances should Fairfax wait until a longer contract day is implemented to provide full day Mondays.  Providing an amount of time in the school week adequate to meet the Standards of Accreditation is a legal necessity now in the FY 2015 budget.

Some people suggest providing full-day Mondays while shortening the other days in the week. If the current amount of time the elementary school students have in school were to be evenly divided among the five days of the week, the students would have 6 hours and 10 minutes in school each day. This would allow only 10 minutes per day for recess, the same amount that is theoretically offered now. Clearly this is inadequate. In fact many schools currently allow students to have 30-minute recesses. In order to provide this amount of recess, the average school day would need to be six hours and 30 minutes.

Currently the  elementary school day Tuesday through Friday is 6 hours and 35 minutes in some schools and 6 hours and 40 minutes in other  schools. I think Fairfax should provide a uniform school day of at 6 hours and 40 minutes per day in the elementary schools next year.

Another disadvantage of shortening the Tuesday through Friday schedule would be increased transportation costs. According to the Report of the Subcommittee on Restructuring the Elementary School Day, (October 1989) “Regardless of the length of the high school and intermediate school day, the 6 1/2-hour elementary school day options are the most effective to control school bus transportation costs. The most expensive transportation options are related to the 6-hour elementary day because they require a considerable amount of driver lay-over time.”

These increased costs could be even greater if  later high school start times are implemented. Fairfax needs to make switching to later high school start times easier, not harder.

The members of the Fairfax County School Board need to face the reality that they have an obligation to set a schedule that meets the requirements in the Standards of Accreditation.  This is not a luxury or an extra that they can avoid implementing on the grounds that it is too expensive.  As previously mentioned, Fairfax could adopt the same elementary schedule seen in many other school districts at no additional cost whatsoever.

The Fairfax County School Board must plan to provide full- day Mondays.  That is simply the baseline for opening the schools in September.

See also Fairfax County does not meet state requirements for the standard school day

New guide for school physical activity programs is released

A new guide for schools to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive school physical activity programs has been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD). The guide can be downloaded at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/cspap.htm

Schools across the country will now have access to step-by-step guidance and evidence to help children and youth obtain at least 60 minutes of physical activity before, during, and after school every day.

According to AAHPERD Senior Program Manager Francesca Zavacky, one of the authors, “The guide can be read and utilized by a group that either already exists (e.g., school health council or wellness committee) or a new group or committee that is made up of physical education coordinators and teachers, classroom teachers, school administrators, recess supervisors, before- and after-school program supervisors, parents, and community members. It can be used to develop a new comprehensive school physical activity program or assess and improve an existing one.”

I hope Fairfax County takes immediate action to provide more time in the school week for the elementary schools. The current standards for something as simple as recess are not at all clear in this large school district. There is a lot of confusion about the amount of time allowed for recess. The situation should be improved by ending the inefficient Monday early dismissal policy in the elementary schools.

Since 2006, CDC has provided funding to AAHPERD to improve the quality of physical education and physical activity programs through a cooperative agreement project; development of the guide is an integral part of AAHPERD’s work plan activities. A writing team, made up of academic and education professionals, was assembled by the two organizations to develop earlier versions of the guide.

“Schools can create more active environments, where all students have the opportunity to be physically active at different times and places throughout the school day,” said Holly Hunt, Chief, CDC’s School Health Branch. “This is a timely and powerful tool that will assist all 50 states now funded to promote healthy school policies and practices through CDC’s cooperative agreement State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health. Specifically, many state health departments will work with schools to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive school physical activity programs (CSPAP).”

The guide is also the foundation for a new Physical Activity Leader (PAL) training being conducted across the country as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools initiative, of which AAHPERD is a managing partner.  As part of its CDC cooperative agreement activities, AAHPERD will conduct PAL professional development training in states receiving enhanced funding as part of the CDC grants to states.

Monday early dismissals were discussed at recent forum

The December issue of the Fairfax Voter, the newsletter of the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, features an article about the new school year and a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Post in September. The discussion was titled “Behind the Headlines: the State of Education in Fairfax County.” Topics covered included the budget, discipline policies, and school schedules. Here is an excerpt covering some scheduling issues:

The moderator of the panel, Post columnist Robert McCartney, read an email about the short day Mondays in elementary schools and its impact on working parents that stated “The early dismissal on Monday causes me to miss hours and wages.”

Dr. Garza answered, “How do we structure the school days and year? We have to consider Art, Music, P.E. Teachers do need time to work together and plan.  Teacher expectations have increased, but the time is still the same from a century ago.  We need more time.”

Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said, “Monday afternoons are critical for collaborative team planning – not only at the school, but across the county. We already have low teacher morale.  We need the planning time.”

Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said that if teachers sacrifice planning and development time on Mondays, the quality of instruction could be jeopardized. He also said that early dismissal Mondays is not a sustainable model and that we need to look overall at how schools are scheduled. He said Fairfax should focus first on later start times.

Garza said she supports later high school start times. “In my former system, high schools started at 8:20 and elementary schools started a little earlier.”  She noted that Fairfax is complicated because we have 395 square miles to coordinate and that people also have their routines. She said, however, “This issue has been debated since 1985.  I am not that patient.  We’ve got to decide this issue and be done with it.”

Source: Fairfax Voter, December 2013, p.3

Further delay in planning for full-day Mondays is foolish

Fairfax County School Board member Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) proposes more procrastination before considering full-day Mondays . Here is my post on the Fairfax Times:

Pat Hynes states that she “would not support going forward with a public discussion at this time.”She is in line with the traditional Scarlett O’Hara philosophy so often invoked by the Fairfax County School Board, “Oh, I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
However, Scarlett was tough enough to realize, “But I must think about it. I must think about it. What is there to do? What is there that matters?”
Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) knows what matters in Fairfax County Public Schools. She brought up an issue that central in importance to the operations of the elementary schools. It has already been a long long long time coming.
The Fairfax County School Board is already working on extensive community engagement on school schedules with a goal of starting high schools at 8:00 a.m. or later.Would Pat Hynes seriously suggest that the topic of Monday afternoons should be censored in these discussions?The school board has made ignoring community concerns an art form. It even ignores the recommendations of its own School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC). Back in 2007 SHAC asked for more time for physical education and at least 20 minutes per day for recess. The school board completely ignored these recommendations.Do any of the school board members actually believe that the current limit of 10 minutes per day for recess makes any sense at all?

Last December the school board reviewed test results showing little change in the 5th-grade pass rate on the Virginia Standards of Learning test in science and drops in scores for pass advanced. This information is included in the Science Narrative for Student Achievement Goal 1.1.3, which states that students should achieve their full academic potential in the core discipline of science.“To add to our challenge, we find competing priorities in the elementary schools in the time allocated for teaching science,” the report states. This same sentence was used in the Science Narrative in 2011. Yet the school board has done nothing to provide more time.
Over the past 25 years, all of the proposals for full day Mondays have made alternative provisions for teacher planning time. Now that the school board is taking a more careful look at teacher planning time, does it make sense censor any discussion of alternative planning time instead of the Monday early dismissals? On weeks with Monday holidays, the teachers have very little planning time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more planning time during the student week?

The 1991 proposal for full-day Mondays would have cost only $3.6 million

There are many different ways of providing for planning time for elementary school teachers while also providing a full day in school for the students on Mondays. The most economical option was proposed in 1991 for a cost of $3.6 million for all schools. One of the costs included in this proposal was for 39 additional art teachers. Since that time, Fairfax went ahead and added more art teachers anyway. So it was really a bit misleading to include this cost as part of the cost of full-day Mondays. Having additional time for art instruction by specialists was a long-standing goal of the school board.

That is one reason why it is so frustrating to hear dire warnings about how eliminating Monday early dismissals could cost “tens of millions” of dollars, etc. The Fairfax County School Board should not avoid considering a better schedule for the elementary schools simply because there would be some additional cost. The cost issue can cut both ways. Historically, critics of switching to full-day Mondays have said that it would be too expensive; or, when a more modest plan is presented, they complain that it is not good enough for Fairfax County. That was some of the criticism leveled at the proposal made by former Superintendent Robert R. Spillane in 1991. At the time, some people criticized his proposal to increase the use of paraprofessionals. I think he was right in his approach and it is well worth revisiting the option of making greater use of paraprofessionals, such as instructional assistants.

At a January 3, 1991, meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, Spillane presented the proposed FY 1992 budget.  At the conclusion of his proposal for a restructured elementary week, he said that he was “confident that this is the best thing to do, educationally, for our students.”

Here is an excerpt from the proposed FY 1992 budget:


This revised proposal for restructuring the elementary school week has the important educational advantages of the earlier plan:

  • It creates a 6 ½-hour uniform student day in grades 1-6 and a uniform 3 hour day in kindergarten
  • It provides all students with additional instructional time in the core curriculum.
  • It provides larger blocks of teacher planning time during the student day and introduces planning time for kindergarten teachers.
  • It fully implements the School Board priority to provide one hour per week of art instruction by art specialists.

The revised plan improves upon the earlier plan, however, in several ways:

  • It provides an additional 156 positions to support the instructional program—39 art teachers and 117 Instructional Assistant II positions. This more flexible staffing eliminates concerns raised about space for additional physical education classes or about differences in the way schools schedule physical education and music.
  • It allows local-school scheduling flexibility, so long as the principal adheres to these guidelines:
    • all additional time is in the core curriculum
    • fragmentation is not increased for students
    • teachers have 270 minutes of planning time per week within the school day
    • It expands use of Instructional Assistant II positions to support the delivery of instruction which is planned and evaluated by the classroom teacher.
    • At $3.6 million, the plan reduces the cost of the previous proposal by nearly 40 percent.

Besides being more flexible and less costly, this revised proposal would begin to make greater use of paraprofessionals, as many national education reports have recommended. The Personnel Department is reviewing job descriptions and performance standards for Instructional Assistants, and I think we have an exciting opportunity to rethink some of the ways we organize the instructional day and integrate technology into the curriculum.

Our teacher professionalism efforts of the 80’s have broken down much of the isolation of teaching, encouraged more professional interaction, and led to more diversified roles and responsibilities for teachers—as math or science lead teachers, observation and intervention team members, Career Level II, or colleague teachers. Now, greater use of paraprofessionals will increase that flexibility and openness, enabling teachers to delegate certain responsibilities and to plan on having instructional support. This is a slight shift in our traditional view of instructional assistants in Fairfax County but, given all that we have heard about them and from them in the past year, I believe it is a timely change.

Obviously, there are many more details to this plan than I can include in my comments tonight, but I will be meeting with elementary principals tomorrow to discuss more details, as well as sample schedules that we have developed. I am confident that we have resolved both the instructional and financial objections that were raised to the prior plan. And I am equally confident that this is the best thing to do, educationally, for our students.

Holly Hobbs reports that Fairfax County elementary schools could go full-day on Mondays

Fairfax County elementary schools could go full-day on Mondays. Holly Hobbs quotes School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District): “How do we establish full-day Mondays and solve the planning issue at the same time? It’s a problem that I think has persisted for too long and it needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. We need to do it. It’s good for kids. It’s good for parents. It’s good for working parents.”

Also, School Board Chairman Ilyrong Moon (At-large) said, “This is a very important issue that I think not just the teachers but the entire community needs to be engaged in.”

Moon and fellow School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District) served on the School Board in the 1990s. Strauss said full-day Monday discussions were halted because of costs.

I posted these comments:

Jane Strauss is wrong to state that full-day Monday discussions were halted because of costs and “It was a 7 percent increase in the cost of elementary instruction.”

It’s true that the 15 of the 16 elementary schools that had full-day Mondays under Project Excel starting in 1999 increased the teacher contract hours by 30 minutes per day and gave them a 7 percent additional salary stipend. These teachers, instructional assistants, counselors, and librarians increased their contract day from 7.5 hours to 8 hours. However, this approach had been criticized as too expensive by the Time and Learning Task Force in 1996. In recent years Project Excel was dropped because of the cost.

Actually, it is well worth considering the option of switching to an 8-hour contract day in Fairfax, along with a substantial increase in pay for teachers. However, this would be part of a comprehensive change in schedules and pay for teachers at all levels, elementary, middle, and high schools, and should not at all be considered as a “cost” of having a regular day on Mondays for elementary school students.

Assuming that Fairfax is not yet ready for such an increase, there are several other ways of providing alternative planning time for elementary school teachers. The most economical option was proposed in 1991 for a cost of $3.6 million for all schools. One of the costs included in this proposal was for 39 additional art teachers. Since that time, Fairfax went ahead and added more art teachers anyway. So it was really a bit misleading to include this cost as part of the cost of full-day Mondays. Having additional time for art instruction by specialists was a long-standing goal of the school board.

It’s time for the Fairfax County School Board to decide how much time students need for math, language arts, science, social studies, physical education, health, music, art, lunch, recess, and other activities. Make sure teachers have equal or greater amounts of planning time compared to the present. The best way to solve this puzzle is to allow the students to have five full days a week in school. Then call that the cost of elementary education, not the cost of full-day Mondays.

Note: In this version I corrected two typos that appeared in the Fairfax Times comment.