BRADENTON -- Elementary school students in the state of Florida may be getting more unstructured play-time, or "recess," next year if a bill working its way through the Legislature makes it into law.
The state already requires school districts to provide 150 minutes of physical education each week. Physical education must be supervised by a certified teacher, and is often a structured form of exercise. Physical education is not required daily, but physical education sessions cannot be shorter than 30 minutes each time they're offered.
Responding to growing concerns from parents across the state that children aren't given enough down time, identical bills were filed in December and introduced last week in the House (HB 833) and Senate (SB 1002). The bills have been referred to committees, but haven't been scheduled for any hearings.
Recess would be supervised but not structured, according to the bill. And recess could not be taken away from students who are struggling academically or who have disciplinary issues, according to the bill.
"Free-play recess may not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons," according to the House bill, introduced by state Reps. Rene "Coach P" Plasencia and Bob Cortes, both Republicans. Plasencia is a teacher and coach at Colonial High School, in Orlando. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
School board chairwoman Karen Carpenter said Thursday she thinks the bill is a good idea, as unstructured play time allows students to work out steam, be active and be attentive in the classroom.
"We need to have that incorporated in the day in a very intentional way," she said.
The issue, of course, is fitting in the additional 20 minutes to the school day.
"That is going to have to be negotiated," she said.
Board vice chair Charlie Kennedy also agrees with the idea, but is struggling with the extra time.
"We just don't have the time in the day to do it," he said.
In Manatee County, the recess issue came to a head during the 2014-15 school year, when a number of concerned parents showed up at a September 2014 meeting. The district was sued over the issue, with parent Kate Smith arguing the district was violating current physical education law. After working with Smith and changing some policies in the district, the lawsuit was voluntarily dropped in September 2015 with each side agreeing to pay their own costs and fees.
Smith, whose children now attend a private school in Sarasota County and have more recess time, said the bill is a start, but still doesn't hit the recommended 30 minutes of unstructured play time per day.
"There's more than enough time in a school day," Smith said.
If passed, the law would go into effect July 1.
In Manatee County, recess is scheduled by each school site, with some district guidelines, according to information provided by the school district.
PE classes, when taught by the PE teacher, must be at least 30 minutes long. In most elementary schools, PE is on 40-minute blocks. On days when students have PE, recess should not exceed 20 minutes. On days when students don't have PE, recess should be 30 consecutive minutes.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.