Florida Moms Continue Fight for Mandatory Recess

Published September 19, 2016

A group of Florida mothers who have been lobbying for recess to be made a mandatory part of the school day have not given up, despite the failure of a bill to do just that earlier this year.

The mothers, who call themselves “Recess Moms,” first petitioned their local school board in Orange County in 2014 to require 20 minutes of daily recess. The school board denied the mothers’ request, so the Orange County moms, alongside mothers from other counties, lobbied state lawmakers.

In February 2016, the Florida House voted 112–2 in favor of House Bill 833 to require public schools to provide at least 20 minutes of recess each school day for elementary school children in public schools. Arguing recess is a local issue, Senate Committee Chairman John Legg (R-Trinity) did not allow the legislation, Senate Bill 1002, to be heard in committee, and the bill did not make it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Legg is not seeking reelection this year. State Rep. Bob Cortes (R-Altamonte Springs), a cosponsor of HB 833, told School Reform News it’s likely the bill’s prime sponsor, state Rep. Rene Plasencia (R-Orlando), will file the bill again during the March 2017 legislative session.

“I plan on supporting it,” Cortes said. “I’ll be helping him move it forward and passing it. We will have as much, if not even more, support.”

The Education Commission of the States, a policy-tracking organization, reports Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, and Virginia “have passed legislation requiring recess (as opposed to unspecified ‘physical activity’ or physical education) for elementary school children.”

Kids ‘Crying, Complaining’

Angela Browning, who helped form the Orange County Recess Moms, says personal experience caused her and a friend to start petitioning for mandatory recess.

“It seemed like recess was dwindling for our kids,” Browning said. “There was a lot of testing that was going on. Elementary school just wasn’t the same for our kids as it was for us. Our kids were coming home from school complaining that the day was too long. They were crying, ‘Mommy, please don’t make me go to school.'”

Browning says she and her friend realized recess at their kids’ schools was “almost nonexistent” and decided to take action.  

“We had waited around for so long for somebody to do something about it, and nobody was doing anything about it, so we just figured we might as well do something ourselves,” Browning said. “We created a petition for Orange County. We created a Facebook group. We met with principals, our superintendent, and school board members to try to change the tide in Orange County. We reached out to Recess Moms in other counties. We just kind of percolated and brought all of us Recess Moms together to see if we could get a bill passed.”

Recess ‘Critical’ for Kids

Browning says scientific research shows students need recess.

“Research shows that for children in elementary school, it’s critical for them to receive 20 minutes of recess per day,” Browning said. “We don’t think it’s unreasonable. These kids are in school for six to seven hours a day.”

Browning says physical education (PE) classes are not a substitute for recess.

“PE is worthwhile, and it is an important part of the school day, but kids need to play,” Browning said. “There are Florida standards that are attached to physical education classes. Teachers are held accountable for showing learning gains in their classes. It’s not free play. That’s what sets recess apart. Recess is unstructured, and that’s what they need in order to just relax a little bit and get their brains ready to go into the next challenge.”

Browning says the clock is ticking for children currently attending school.

“We understand that academics are a priority, and we understand that these test scores are ever-important and that there are high stakes attached to them, but we don’t get a second chance to do the right thing for our kids,” Browning said. “We can’t wait for reform in those other areas in order to let our children be children. Time is not on our side where our children are concerned. They grow up. In three years, it’s going to be too late for my kids.”

High Stakes to Blame?

Cortes says he doesn’t buy into the excuse he’s heard that there is no time for recess because teachers have to prepare students for rigorous standardized testing.

“We believe they do have the time [for recess],” Cortes said. “Many schools did adopt a recess policy. Many of the counties already have the recess policy in place. There’s also the argument that we have [made]: At what point will kids stop learning because they have so much bottled up inside?”

Browning says money and test score are at the heart of the issue.

“I think they’re living in this culture of fear,” Browning said. “If we give back the 20 minutes of instruction that we took from recess in the first place, our test scores are going to drop, and our school grades are going to fall, and we’re going to lose funding. The stakes that are attached to these tests are high, but there is plenty of flexibility in the school day right now for our kids to get 20 minutes of recess each day.

“Our school board and our school districts feel that the more instruction that you can cram into these kids, the better they’re going to do on these tests, which means the higher grades the school is going to get,” Browning said. “If they read the research, they see that more quantity doesn’t equal better quality. We are putting so much pressure on these very, very young children that they’re suffering emotionally because of it.”

Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is an education research fellow for The Heartland Institute.