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.

Florida parents request a mandate for recess

In Orlando, Florida, over 50 parents and children asked the Orange County School Board to require recess in the elementary schools. The Orlando Sentinel reports that only a handful of the 123 elementary schools in the district mandate that children must have at least 20 minutes for recess. Twenty-three have no requirement for recess.

After hearing from the parents, the Orange board later decided to ask area superintendents to get all elementary principals to work recess and physical activity into their schedules starting next fall. They also discussed passing a resolution encouraging principals to work recess into school schedules — but not mandating it.

NBC News had a report today about the school board meeting that was held on Tuesday: Watch The Today Show Clip: Florida Parents Fight to Keep School Recess – ShareTV.

Fairfax County adds 64 positions for full-day Mondays

In addition to questions about recess, I also asked other questions about the change in the elementary school schedules now that Fairfax County has full-day Mondays. Here are the questions, along with the answers from Brandynn Reaves, public information specialist:

Question:  Would it be correct to state that nine additional schools added FLES [Foreign Languages in Elementary Schools] this September, for a total of 55 schools with FLES?

Answer:  There are 55 schools in Fairfax County Public Schools that have the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program.  They are listed on the FCPS website at http://www.fcps.edu/is/worldlanguages/fles.shtml.

Question: How many schools added additional instruction by music, art or P.E. specialists?

Answer: Below is a breakdown of added staff position for music, art and physical education:

Subject

FTE [Full-time equivalent] total 2014_15

FTE total 2013_14

PE

478

424.16

Art

265.13

257.57

Music

271.33

272.57


Questions:
 Do you have figures on how many of the additional FTE positions in P.E. and art are added solely due to increased enrollment and how many are added in response to the new full-day Monday schedule? Do you have statistics on the types of additional staff positions that were added in response to the new full-day Monday schedule?

Answer: A total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays.  The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (pe) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers. 

There were 755.2 art/music/pe teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/pe teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments.

Question: Do you have statistics on how many schools have 60 minutes per week of P.E., How many have 90 minutes? Are there any schools which now offer more than 90 minutes per week?

Answer: Statistics for how many minutes each school has devoted to physical education and music classes is not centrally maintained.  With the implementation of the full-day Mondays, each elementary school had the flexibility to determine how to best utilize the additional instructional time for students. Elementary school master schedules were reviewed by the regional assistant superintendent’s offices only to ensure the appropriate amount of teacher planning time was provided.

This information, which was provided to me in emails sent October 24 and November 4, was also included in the recent article in the Fairfax VOTER.

Fairfax County does not specify a maximum amount of time for recess

When elementary schedules were being constructed for this school year, a 20-minute minimum time for recess was communicated to principals, according to Brandynn Reaves, FOIA officer/public information specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools. “There are no maximum times for recess being communicated to principals.”

Reaves was responding to questions I emailed about whether there is a maximum amount of time allowed for recess and whether FCPS had given principals and teachers new written directives about recess.

In the email she sent me October 22, Reaves said, “We instituted a new regulation that addresses recess.  Currently, School Board Regulation 3218.3 Section III.A.3.h states:

“h. Ensures physical education teachers provide no fewer than two instructional segments totaling a minimum of 60 minutes of instruction weekly for students in kindergarten through grade six. Two or more instructional segments totaling a minimum of 90 minutes is recommended. The Code of Virginia Section 22.1-253.13:1 requires a plan for physical fitness for all students of at least 150 minutes per week. Plans for 150 minutes of physical fitness must include 60 minutes of physical education and a minimum of 15 minutes of daily recess as required by 8VAC20-131-200. Remaining time needed to meet the Virginia requirements may be provided by additional physical education or recess.

“However, when elementary schedules were being constructed for this school year, a 20 minute minimum was communicated to principals. This was discussed at the School Board meeting June 26, 2014 – Regular Meeting No. 22-  Master Calendar Revision 2014-2015:

The FCPS regulation is not precise when it says that the Code of Virginia requires a plan for physical fitness for all students of at least 150 minutes per week. Chapter 13.2 Standards of quality, includes the following provision

§ 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 available to all students 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) 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 such program during the regular school year.”

Even though the state “goal” of 150 minutes of physical fitness is not a strict requirement, I don’t understand why the FCPS regulation only calls for 15 minutes of daily recess. That would amount to 75 minutes per week. For the schools which offer only 60 minutes of P.E., the total amount of physical fitness provided by P.E. and recess would be only 135 minutes.

In answer to my question about whether FCPS specifies a maximum amount of time for recess, Reaves explained,

“There are no maximum times for recess being communicated to principals; again, state requirements only mention ‘a daily recess’.  The Code of Virginia, 8 VAC 20-131-200 states:

“Extracurricular and other school activities, recess.

A. School sponsored extracurricular activities shall be under the direct supervision of the staff and shall contribute to the educational objectives of the school. Extracurricular activities must be organized to avoid interrupting the instructional program. Extracurricular activities shall not be permitted to interfere with the student’s required instructional activities. Extracurricular activities and eligibility requirements shall be established and approved by the superintendent and the school board.

B. Competitive sports of a varsity nature (scheduled league games) shall be prohibited as a part of the elementary school program.

C.  Each elementary school shall provide students with a daily recess during the regular school year as determined appropriate by the school.

I also asked, “If 20 minutes is not a maximum, but schools have discretion on this matter, does FCPS have statistics on the length of recess in the various elementary schools?

Reaves answered, “Data is not collected centrally on the length of recess at each FCPS elementary school. These decisions are left to the individual schools.”

I also asked for a copy of the previous regulation, 3218.2. Section III.A.3.h in the old regulation states:

h. Ensures physical education teachers provide no fewer than two instructional segments totaling a minimum of 60 minutes of instruction weekly for students in kindergarten through grade six. Two or more instructional segments totaling a minimum of 90 minutes is recommended. Section 22.1-253.13:1 of the Code of Virginia recommends that students participate in 150 minutes of physical activity weekly provided by physical education, extra-curricular activities, or other programs and physical activities.”

It’s interesting that the previous regulation referred to the state recommendation regarding 150 minutes of physical activity per week, but didn’t mention whether FCPS might ever attempt to meet this recommendation.

More benches are added to school playgrounds

An elementary school on Cape Cod is adding its third buddy bench to the playground for use during recess. “A buddy bench is a place where students who do not have anyone to play with can sit as a signal to peers that they are looking for a friend,” the Falmouth News reports.

North Falmouth principal Karen P. Karson brought the first buddy bench to Falmouth in January of this year. “I read about it online, and thought ‘What a great concept,’ ” Ms. Karson said. In the spring of 2013, according to the website buddybench.org, a 1st grade student in Pennsylvania, whose parents were considering a move to Germany, looked at a German school with a buddy bench and told his principal back in Pennsylvania about it. The boy’s family ended up not moving, but his principal did decide to install a buddy bench.

The benches are used several times a week. Fourth-grade teacher Steven M. Cross said he “has never seen a student sitting on the buddy bench teased or stigmatized for it.”

Fairfax VOTER describes schedule and staffing changes in FCPS

The December Fairfax VOTER features an article about the changing schedules in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). This newsletter for the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area includes a description of the switch to full-day Mondays for the elementary schools.

On June 26, the Fairfax County School Board voted to stop dismissing elementary school students 2.5 hours early every Monday. This has increased instructional time for students and allowed for 20 minutes of daily recess. In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.

As of November 2014, a total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays. Brandynn Reaves, a public information specialist with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, provided me and the other authors of this article with the following information:

The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (PE) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers.

There were 755.2 art/music/PE teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/PE teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments

The Voter article also describes the calendar changes this year and the school board’s decision to provide later start times for high schools and secondary schools next fall.