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Now that there's daily recess, one school board wants to end required PE

By Colleen Wright
Times files
Representatives from every Florida school board will meet in Gainesville on Thursday to discuss and vote on their official legislative platform for 2018. Citrus County has proposed repealing the requirement of 150 physical activity minutes a week.

Hordes of moms fought for years to get the Florida Legislature to make a law requiring 20 minutes of daily recess in all traditional public elementary schools. That's on top of 150 minutes of state-mandated physical activity -- time often used for physicel education classes.

Some of the founders behind the "recess mom" movement were taken aback this week when they saw the Florida School Boards Association proposed legislative platform for 2018. A bullet point suggested eliminating the PE requirement but keeping daily recess for all students, including those in charter schools that are currently exempted.

Angela Browning, an Orange County mom who led the fight for recess, posted a screenshot of the platform in a Facebook group and urged her 6,000 members to contact their local school boards to vote against it. One representative from each of the state's 67 school boards will meet in Gainesville on Thursday to debate and vote on FSBA's official legislative platform, which was condensed to just a handful of points last year.

"They lost on recess so now they're focused on PE," Browning wrote.

The school board behind the suggestion is Citrus County, a smaller central Florida school district of almost 16,000 students. Board member Thomas Kennedy submitted the proposal to FSBA himself, and he'll be there Thursday to vote on his board's behalf.

He says the Legislature could've avoided the fight for daily recess if it just eliminated the 150 minute requirement of supervised physical activity, or SPA. He says he's heard complaints from schools and parents that the new recess mandate cuts into instructional time, special subjects like math and art and even lunch.

"Outside of certain circles, I don’t think anyone has ever argued whether recess was important," Kennedy said. "But to begin with, why would we legislate any of this? Recess became an issue when SPA became implemented. Why would they want to mandate 250 minutes out of every week in anything?"

More importantly, he said, is that decisions like instructional minutes should be made at the local level by school boards. It's why Kennedy's point was listed on the proposed platform under the category of "Local Authority and Governance."

Browning agrees with Kennedy: these are decisions that should be made at the local level.

"But for a decade," she said, "it wasn’t being handled at the local level. We went to Tallahassee because we went to our school boards and they did nothing."

She emphasized that PE and recess are two separate necessities that should not be interchangeable.

"It's not an 'either or,'" Browning said. "I understand the objection to a one-size fits all approach. But I am telling you, it all fits in the day and we have one shot to do what’s right by our kids."

On the point of requiring recess for charter school students, "He can carpool with the recess moms," Browning said. She added that her group has never supported that exclusion.

Pinellas County school board member Rene Flowers will attend the FSBA meeting in Gainesville. She said she received about six or seven emails from parents urging her to vote against repealing the PE requirement, and she says she will.

"It's hard to separate the two," she said. "I don't think I'll be in the minority."