GEORGIA – Georgia lawmakers are poised to make recess mandatory for elementary school children, joining fewer than half the states in making “unstructured activity time” as important as reading and writing.
Currently, only 21 of the nation’s 50 states require recess, with only a handful of those states located in the South.
House Bill 273, which is receiving bipartisan support in the Georgia Legislature, will take the decision out of the hands of the local school board and make it mandatory to provide at least 30 minutes of recess for students in grades K-8.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), said his legislation addresses an issue that is important to parents and critical to the health of students.
“[This] legislation simply encourages children to play outside and engage in physical activity,” said Rep. Douglas, a former linebacker for the University of Georgia. “Research shows that students benefit tremendously from recess, and I am proud to sponsor legislation that promotes the physical, social and emotional health of Georgia’s young learners.”
Even 30 minutes of free play could help reverse a trend toward obesity, notes the nation’s top health agency. According to the CDC, obesity rates for children have more than tripled since 1970 with 20 percent of children ages 6-19 considered obese. The CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children.
HB 273 passed the House on March 3 and is now in the Senate for what is shaping up to be a fast track to the governor’s desk. If passed and signed into legislation, the changes would go into effect for the 2017-2018 school year.
The state’s largest association for educators, PAGE (Professional Association for Georgia Educators), has given its support to HB 273, but believes it only addresses part of the issue.
“PAGE has concerns that some of the underlying issues that prompt legislation on mandated recess are not addressed, which are over-testing and funding,” said Craig Harper, director of communications for PAGE. “Our teacher members are very supportive of more recess for kids, as it demonstrably improves student learning. Recess often loses out in scheduling because of the need for as much instructional time as possible.”
There is currently no state laws mandating recess, with those decisions left to the local school system, noted a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.
In the Fulton County School System, policy mandates 15 minutes of recess each day in grades K-5, with the “unstructured activity time” occurring outside when possible.
School officials note the policy was amended in years past to limit school staff from taking recess away from students for behavior or academic reasons.
“The time should be scheduled to serve as a break during academic learning and should not to be used as a reward or incentive nor withheld for academic reasons,” explained Susan Hale, spokesperson for Fulton Schools.
As far as middle schools, Hale noted recess is provided at the discretion of the school’s principal.