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Bill would mandate elementary schools to give recess

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A House education panel unanimously cleared a bill that would create a state mandate for elementary schools to give students at least 100 minutes of recess per week.

The K-12 Subcommittee OK’d the measure (HB 833) Tuesday. It must next clear the Education Appropriations Subcommittee and full Education Committee before it can be heard on the House floor.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Reps. Rene Plasencia of Orlando and Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs specifies “supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess.”

On the question of whether the state needed to be involved in mandating recess, one parent said, “if local control was working, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Recess, for those too old to remember, is “a short period of time during the school day when children can play.” The 100-minute mandate could be divided into a 20-minute period per day.

It also says that recess “may not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons,” meaning no more students sitting in a classroom as punishment, looking out a window to watch their classmates play outside.

Plasencia, a high-school teacher and track coach, said he filed the measure after an education town hall where parents complained their kids weren’t getting enough recess time. Some schools didn’t even offer recess, he told the panel.

In response to a question from Rep. Ross Spano, Plasencia explained the difference between physical education class and recess: “It’s a time to let out energy and let off steam, but also (to) just be creative, to allow students to express themselves and learn social skills.”

The legislation was supported by dozens of speakers, including mothers and representatives of parent-teacher groups around the state. Cortes later noted that no one from a county school board appeared to speak against the bill.

Proponents say recess provides some needed time off – a “cognitive break” – so children can get back to the classroom and focus on their studies. It especially helps kids with attention deficit problems, experts say.

As one “recess mom” told the panel: “It’s too hard for them to sit all day long without a break.”

A Senate companion (SB 1002) has not yet gotten a hearing in the 2016 Legislative Session.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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