Karen Keys-Gamarra for School Board

I will vote for Karen Keys-Gamarra in today’s special election for the Fairfax County School Board at-large seat. At a candidate’s forum on August 23, Chris Grisafe, the Republican endorsed candidate, said he supported zero-based budgeting for the school system. Keys-Gamarra, who is endorsed by the Democrats, correctly objected that zero-based budgeting would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Gamarra is also endorsed by The Washington Post, the Fairfax Education Association, and the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

Grisafe presented an inconsistent position on the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School. On the one hand, he said that the community has a right to be heard on this issue; on the other hand he objected to the length of time it took to involve the community in the decision.

Independent candidate Michael Owens made some good points at the candidate’s forum. “Recess is a right, not a privilege,” she said, noting that it should never be withheld from students as a punishment. She is one of two independent candidates quixotically attempting to win an at-large seat without endorsement by either the Republicans or Democrats.

From my experience in the 1995 school board election, I know that school board elections in Fairfax County are nonpartisan in name only. It would be difficult to win a district seat as an independent, and probably impossible to win an at-large seat. What can be done to improve the selection process for school board members? I will cover this vital question in future posts.

Parents ask for more time for recess and physical education

Recess supporters pack school board meeting. The Prince William Times reports that about 50 parents and their children demonstrated their support of more time for recess and physical education at a Prince William County School Board meeting held January 18.

CDC and SHAPE publish guidelines on recess

What are the best policies for recess in grades K-12? This question was recently answered by two new publications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SHAPE America—Society of Healthy and Physical Educators. Strategies for Recess in Schools and Recess Planning in Schools: A Guide to Putting Strategies for Recess Into Practice, can be downloaded free of charge at shapeamerica.org/recess.

Here are some of the suggestions:

➤Prohibiting the replacement of physical education with recess or using recess to meet time requirements for physical education policies.
➤Providing schools and students with adequate spaces, facilities, equipment, and supplies for recess.
➤Ensuring that spaces and facilities for recess meet or exceed recommended safety standards.
➤Prohibiting the exclusion of students from recess for disciplinary reasons or academic performance in the classroom.
➤Prohibiting the use of physical activity during recess as punishment.
➤Providing recess before lunch.
➤Providing staff members who lead or supervise recess with ongoing professional development.

“This is a milestone in our quest to increase children’s physical activity levels. Daily recess, monitored by well-trained staff or volunteers, can optimize a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development,” says SHAPE America Chief Executive Officer E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D. “Recess contributes to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity for students and helps them apply the knowledge and skills they learn in an effective health and physical education program. In addition, recess supports 50 Million Strong, SHAPE America’s commitment to empower all kids to lead active and healthy lives.”

Strategies for Recess in Schools defines recess and identifies 19 evidence-based strategies schools can implement that increase student physical activity and academic achievement. Although most of the evidence and expert opinion for these strategies came from elementary schools, many of the strategies are also applicable to secondary schools. The intent is for school staff or groups working with schools to identify what is currently happening or not happening with recess in their school, and then use this information to develop a recess plan that serves all students.

Recess Planning in Schools: A Guide to Putting Strategies for Recess Into Practice complements the strategies document by guiding schools through the process of developing a written recess plan that incorporates the identified strategies. In addition, CDC and SHAPE America developed a customizable Recess Planning Template, which enables schools to record details of how they will organize and implement recess at school.

Advocates push for later start times and longer recess

Advocates for later start times and a longer recess testified recently before the Eden Prairie School Board in Minnesota. Speaking at the January 23 meeting, several people testified that 20 minutes was not a long enough time for recess. Some also spoke in favor of later start times for middle and high school students in this Minnesota school district.


Florida bill would mandate a minimum time for recess

Mandated recess time up for debate again in Florida legislature.  A bill proposed by Senator Anitere Flores, a Republican from Miami, states, “Each district school board shall provide at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 so that there are at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day.”

Rhode Island mandates at least 20 minutes of recess

Today Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimonda said she will sign a bill mandating at least 20 minutes of recess at elementary schools.

WPRI.com Eyewitness News reports:

She said she’s pleased by a “big and positive” amendment to the bill that gives teachers more leeway. Instead of prohibiting schools from taking away recess as a form of punishment, the amended bill asks teachers to make a good-faith effort not to withhold recess.

Parents call for more recess in Miami-Dade schools

Over 6,200 people have signed a petition launched by parents calling for 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary and pre-K students in Miami-Dade schools.

The Miami Herald reports that Florida does not have a state law requiring recess. “The Miami-Dade school district, the fourth-largest in the country, however, stresses that it already mandates recess at least twice a week,” the Herald reports.

School district officials say they leave it up to teachers and principals to follow the recess policy, and that any changes to the rules will have to take into account the variety of school buildings and academic programs throughout the county’s more than 200 elementary and K-8 schools.

Alice Quarles, the principal at North Beach Elementary in Miami Beach, said they simply don’t have the space for everyone to have recess every day. Classes have to be staggered to make sure there’s enough room for safe play.

“I think you have to look at your resources, what you have, and maximize that for your children,” she said.

When the district passed its current recess policy, an internal survey of principals and teachers found that more than a quarter of respondents said scheduling recess into the school day would be difficult.

Re-Elect Sandy S. Evans

Sandy Evans deserves applause and appreciation for co-founding SLEEP in Fairfax and then tirelessly working as a community activist and then as a school board member to ensure that high schools start at 8:10 or later rather than at 7:20.  She was a former chairman of the School Board’s School Health Advisory Committee and the Transportation Task Force. She was a founding member of the Fairfax Education Coalition,, a steering committee member of the Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition, a former president of the Sleepy Hollow Elementary School PTA, and a former legislation committee chairman of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.

Evans was elected to the Fairfax County School Board as the representative for Mason District in March 2010. At the October 23, 2014, school board meeting, Evans introduced the motion to approve and adopt the plan for later high school start times. She said:

Today, the board is going to take a historic vote for student health and well-being. We have before us tonight a plan that finally will get our high school students on to a much healthier school schedule. One that will help our teens get the sleep they so desperately need for their physical and mental health, and to do their very best academically. It’s been a long journey to get here but one well worth taking. Sleep deprivation among our teens is a public health crisis. Our school system has a responsibility to play its part in addressing this problem. Adolescents need nine hours of sleep a night for optimal health.

During the many years she spent studying the school and bus schedules, Evans also became an expert on the elementary school schedules, and she was a strong advocate for more recess time for the students. On June 26, 2014, when the school board voted to provide full-day Mondays for the elementary schools, Evans said, “This is a red letter day for us.”

She noted that the change benefits our students with more time, benefits our teachers with more unencumbered planning time, and benefits our students’ health with more recess time, which is absolutely critical.

Evans was a former staff writer and reporter for the Washington Post.  Her writing skills are evident in her email newsletters to her constituents in Mason District. She does a great job summarizing news from the school system and explaining the complexities of the $2.6 billion budget for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Evans is running unopposed. She is endorsed by the Democrats, the  Washington Post, the Fairfax Education Association, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, and Class Size Counts.


Advocates recommend more time for recess for Kansas schools

Refocus on recess, health advocates tell schools. The Wichita Eagle reports that “most elementary and middle schools in Kansas don’t offer 20-minutes recess, which has been shown to improve children’s behavior, academic performance, health and well-being.”

The Kansas Health Foundation funded a study conducted by the Kansas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance that showed that most schools are opting for shorter breaks for students, and “teachers at six elementary schools and 14 preschools said their schools don’t offer recess at all.”


The student calendar should include 183 days

At the public hearing on the FY 2016 budget held tonight, I urged the Fairfax County School Board to add three days to the school calendar next year. Here is my testimony:

In recent years the school board included 183 days in the student calendar. This year this was reduced to 180 days. The proposed budget would save $1.3 million by continuing a limit of 180 days in next year’s calendar.[i] I think it would be better to return to the tradition scheduling three days more than the state requirement of 180 days to allow for snow days.

It is true that Fairfax can meet state requirements by providing more than 990 instructional hours. However, I don’t think we should try to just barely meet state requirements after allowing for snow days and lunch periods and recess. If we have been willing to fund 183 days in the past, I think we should continue this tradition and not try to economize by reducing the number of days the calendar.

The average number of snow days recorded over the past 30 years was 3.9 days per year. Last year and in 2003 and 2010 there were 11 snow days. In the past 12 years we have seen an increasing number of days lost from school due to inclement weather. Let’s not artificially subtract additional days from the standard calendar.

[i] Proposed Budget, Fairfax County, Virginia FY 16, p.52. “Contract Length Reductions—Full-Day Mondays ($1.3 Million)” I believe it is misleading to link these contract length reductions to full day Mondays. It is true that the calendar was adjusted at the same time that the Monday early dismissal policy was eliminated, but it was a separate issue. This year salaries were held harmless, but the proposed FY 2016 budget includes cuts.

Superintendent Garza made some comments on this issue. At this hour (9:50 p.m.) the school board is still meeting, so I will wait until tomorrow to fill in some more details.