BRADENTON -- A cutback in dedicated recess time for elementary students in the Manatee County School District is causing concern among some parents and motivating one parent to bring a motion before the school board to restore recess time.
Kate Smith, an estate lawyer with two children at Virgil Mills Elementary School, began researching the issue when her third-grade daughter came home from school stressed and upset one day because she did not have recess. Smith also has a son in kindergarten at the school.
"I promised her I'd do something about it," Smith told the Bradenton Herald. Smith said she plans to bring a motion before the school board during a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday to ask the board to reconsider its approach and reinstate the process.
Smith said she and other parents were not informed
of the reduction in recess time at the beginning of the year and that many of them still do not know about it. District officials said students are getting the required number of minutes for exercise each week and that there was no formal change in the recess policy because no recess policy exists.
Florida State Statute stipulates that each school district must provide 150 minutes of physical education each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5. The Manatee County School District 2014-15 student progression plan states the elementary schools must provide 30 consecutive minutes of physical education daily for students. There are exceptions, including if a student is enrolled in a remedial course or if a parent requests the student waive the requirement because they are enrolled in a separate course or if the students is meeting the requirement through physical activities outside the school day.
Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Diana Greene said that there is no change in the policy this year, but students may have fewer minutes of recess because they are getting more physical education time. Greene told Smith in an email that many of the elementary schools now have two physical education teachers, allowing students to have more time in physical education classes, cutting down on the number of minutes students need to have in recess to meet the 150-minutes requirement.
A combination of recess and PE equals the required 150 minutes per week, and Greene said it's possible that many of the students are getting more than the minimum time. If a student has PE three times a week at 40 minutes a class and then recess twice a week for 30 minutes, that would be more than 150 minutes.
"We have not broken any laws, there is no policy of recess," Greene said.
Recess and physical education have nuanced differences, according to a representatives from the Society of Health and Physical Educators, commonly called SHAPE. a nonprofit organization based in Virginia.
Physical education provides specific instruction to enhance motor skills, movement concepts, and physical fitness, according to SHAPE. Recess provides unstructured play opportunities that allow children to engage in physical activity.
Recess does not replace physical education classes and SHAPE advocates for at least 20 minutes of recess a day for elementary school students and 150 minutes of physical activity a week, said Paula Kun, the senior director of communication.
Because of the typical block scheduling in elementary schools daily 40-minute blocks of physical education and 20-minute recess periods help reach a 60-minute goal for the day, Kun said.
"We want children to be physically active a minimum of 60 minutes per day," she said. "We want children to be active before, during and after school."
Greene said schools and teachers have to manage their daily minutes, hitting all the other requirements.
"We're making sure all of the subject areas are supported," she said.
Greene said it's possible that PE students can be given some free time within the 40=minute framework, that would look more like what is traditionally considered "recess."
Regardless of the number of minutes, Smith also questioned who gave the directive to reduce recess and use the combined recess/PE model to reach 150 minutes per week. Smith said the decision should have been made by the school board after the public had been given an opportunity to voice their opinion on the issue.
"It it my opinion that the directive that was issued to the principals of Manatee County was outside the scope of authority of the Superintendent's office," Smith wrote in an email sent to board members and district officials on Tuesday.
In the email, Smith asked the board to take the necessary action to "retract the erroneous directive reducing recess to meet the bare minimum requirements of Florida law, bring recess back in each school to the same number of minutes each school has historically been know to utilize during a school dress and address the issue in accordance with the law."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.