Fine Print: Assembly May Be Close to Making Decision on School-Recess Bill

John Mooney | November 30, 2015 | Education
Lower chamber nears final vote on measure that would mandate 20 minutes minimum of recess in elementary school

recess playground
What it is: A bill approved by the Senate and progressing in the Assembly this winter would require all students in kindergarten to fifth grade to have at least 20 minutes a day of recess. The bill leaves some discretion to schools as to whether recess is held indoors or outdoors, and to address extraordinary circumstances.

Sponsors: State Sen. Shirley Turner is the prime sponsor in the Senate; its main sponsors in the Assembly are Assemblymen Erik Peterson, Joseph Lagana, and David Rible and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.

What it means: There is little argument against this one; most schools provide at least some daily recess already. Still, there are some exceptions, advocates say, and even this bill has taken time to reach critical mass, dating back to Turner’s first filing in 2009. And even as it has won overwhelming approval in both chambers, it comes with several caveats.

Where it stands: The bill was passed 39-0 by the Senate, and the Assembly education committee unanimously moved it ahead earlier this month, with a few amendments. The next step is a vote of the full Assembly, possibly as soon as this month.

Still not certain: State Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly panel, said he was happy to move the bill forward in committee, but there are questions about time and capacity if it is to be mandated for all schools. “It’s more complicated than on the face of it,” he told NJ Spotlight yesterday.

Recess nationwide: Only a half-dozen states now require or encourage recess in schools by law, according to a recent count. But a number of national reports have promoted the physical and social benefits of recess. A 2013 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics cited it as a key step in fending off childhood obesity.

The caveats: The bill would permit schools to decide whether to hold recess indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather, but clearly prefers the latter. “The recess period is to be held outdoors, if feasible,” the bill reads. More significantly, the bill stipulates that schools cannot withhold recess from a student as a punishment, except where a bullying accusation is involved. And even if that is the case, the school can only do so twice in one week.

Other conditions: Schools would still have the power to prevent a student from participating in recess due to medical or other special-needs considerations. And it would not be required to provide recess on days that are shortened by weather or early dismissals.

One more: A district would be prohibited from using recess as part of its physical education requirement, which mandates that students receive 150 minutes of health or phys-ed weekly.