Bill Requiring 20 Minutes of Daily Recess for Younger Kids Hits Delay in Assembly

Last-minute amendments would give schools more flexibility in how they comply with mandate

recess playground
A bill requiring 20 minutes of daily recess in all New Jersey elementary schools came close to a vote yesterday in the Assembly, but now will likely be delayed at least a few more weeks due to minor amendments made to address a few lingering concerns.

The issue is not so much support or opposition to the idea of school recess, but whether the state should be involved and dictate how much time to devote to it, and whether recess time can be used as a reward and for discipline.

The last version of the legislation included provisions to give districts some flexibility in the case of bullying incidents. The amendments broaden that discretion even more.

A few of the state’s education advocates were on hand in the State House chamber yesterday to follow the action, and they offered the following points of view from their different perspectives.

JoAnn Doherty, immediate past president of New Jersey Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, representing the state’s 7,000 physical-education, health and dance teachers:

“We were the ones who pushed the bill … With the new amendment they have in it, it does give flexibility to districts. Districts have their own policies, and the state shouldn’t mandate those for every district. It does mandate 20 minutes, but not (how it’s used) or any of that. That’s up to the district and their policies. But do I think it should mandate 20 minutes? Yes, and here’s why. The law that now says there must be 150 minutes of health and phys-ed every week, it is being used for recess, too. And it is being used a lot, and there aren’t any police out there to say no, you can’t do that. Recess is different than phys-ed. It is not structured, it should be open and free play. Some people want to make it structured, and that is not what it is about.”

Debra Bradley, chief lobbyist, the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association:

“School principals understand the importance of recess to young students as a part of their educational day. Recess is important not only to students’ health and social development, it actually refreshes students to promote active learning once they return to the classroom. We support the idea of setting aside a dedicated time during the school day in the elementary grades. Our sole concern is to build in local school flexibility in the proposed legislation to ensure that educators can address student safety concerns and unique local needs. We thank the bill sponsors for working with educators to address these concerns.”

Doherty said her association’s survey found only half of the state’s districts specifically require recess, although she said many of the other districts seek to integrate it into phys-ed class.

Others have estimated that closer to a quarter of New Jersey school districts have daily recess.

The New Jersey School Boards Association in 2013 conducted an informal survey of its members on the topic. Out of more than 100 responses, 75 percent said their districts provide recess to students in kindergarten to fifth grade, the grades included in the new bill.

Yet while virtually all recognized the benefits of recess, according to that survey, more than a third said the state shouldn’t be legislating recess, and more than half said districts should have the discretion on how to use it.