A group of Florida parents wanted the Florida legislature to guarantee that their kids in public elementary schools would get daily recess. Members of the state House thought it was a good idea and approved a bill with such a mandate last month — but when it was time for the Senate to take up the measure, they wouldn’t even consider it.
Recess for young kids sounds like a no-brainer, given that young kids have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time and do better academically when they have time to be active. As the Orlando Sentinel quoted Dean Ross, 8, a second grader at Lake Eola Charter School, talking about afternoon recess: “We love it. If we don’t get it, we start to get crazy.” In fact, study after study has found recess to be an important part of the day for young children. From the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on School Health:
Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education — not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.
But in this era of “accountability-based” school reform in which high-stakes standardized tests remain supreme, recess has become expendable in many places, and even deemed a waste of time that could be better used making young kids do academic work and prepping them for tests.
That’s why a group of Florida parents, sometimes referred to as the “recess moms,” pushed an initiative guaranteeing daily recess. In February, the Florida House passed the measure 112-to-2 — even though some school districts thought the mandate would be difficult to work into daily schedules. The bill says in part:
… each district school board shall provide 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 and for students in grade 6 who are enrolled in a school that contains one or more elementary grades so that there are at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day. Free-play recess may not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
But when it got to the Florida Senate, one senator stood in the way. The education committee’s chairman, Sen. John Legg, said he thinks that recess in schools is a local issue and didn’t want the full Senate taking it up — even though the legislature mandates other things for local schools, such as physical education. He refused to take up the bill at a Senate hearing. And on Friday, when the full Senate had a chance to waive the body’s rules to take the bill up on the floor, lawmakers refused to do so.
Elizabeth Flora Ross, one of the parents involved in the recess effort, said that 32 senators had said privately that they would support the bill — but in the end, only 14 voted to waive the rules and take it up on the full Senate floor. Here’s an open letter to the Florida Senate, from Ross, written on Friday after the Senate’s refusal, which appeared on her blog, The Writer Revived:
Dear Florida State Senate,
Today, you failed my child, and the more than one million students who attend Florida’s public elementary schools.
Today, you chose doing what was comfortable over doing what is right.
Today, you played political games instead of representing your constituents.
Today, you demonstrated power and personal interest are more important to you than the Will of the People.
Today, you used our children as pawns to further your own agendas.
Today, you glibly joked about needing to take a recess after callously denying our children their right to have it.
Today, you proved common sense and decency truly are dead in politics.
Tomorrow, you will have excuses.
Tomorrow, you will argue semantics.
Tomorrow, you will backtrack and try to pretend you didn’t just screw over our kids.
But tomorrow, Senators, and the next day, and the next, we will remember today and show you how we feel with our votes.
Tomorrow, we will mobilize around a new cause; work to spread a different message.
Tomorrow, we will study this list carefully and prepare to, as they say, “clean house.”
Because the Capitol IS our house. And clearly we need to find better people to represent us in it.
A Florida parent and registered voter