Recess is coming to Pinellas elementary schools in the fall -- or is it? Depends on your definition of 'recess'
How do you define what recess looks like in schools?
Is it wiggling around to a video inside the classroom, or free play outside?
Each Pinellas County elementary school's administration will decide that as they work on their master schedules for the coming 2016-17 school year. Schools that submit a master schedule without consecutive 20-minute blocks of "health education" -- which is what recess is coded as because it must be supervised by a certified staff member for liability purposes -- on days without physical education will not be approved.
Elementary schools undergoing a "transformation," which include five south St. Petersburg schools highlighted in the Times' Failure Factories series as being among the worst schools in the state, are expected to have that 20-minute block every day. Their school day has been lengthened from six to seven and a half hours.
District superintendent Mike Grego in January made this sweeping announcement at the Pinellas County School Board's Jan. 26 meeting -- the day that a group of Pinellas "recess moms" were in Tallahassee advocating for a bill that would mandate 20 minutes of daily, unstructured recess at all Florida elementary schools that ultimately failed in the Senate:
“We will and we are now going to move towards...scheduling recess or physical activity in some form each and every day in the school district at least by 20 minutes," Grego told board members. "And so we’ll expect all elementary schools to provide a minimum of 20 minutes of recess on the days when they do not have physical education.”
Most Pinellas elementary schools have 50-minute blocks of P.E. three times a week to fulfill a state mandate, although some schools have P.E. five times a week in 30-minute blocks. To avoid giving schools another mandate, Grego said it is important for principals and their staffs to determine how they will provide recess in terms of space and acreage instead of creating a uniform district policy.
Recess is never defined in a directive sent in February by Shana Rafalski, the district's director for elementary education, and even Grego has used "physical activity" and "recess" interchangeably. Schools are expected to provide 20 minutes of physical activity somehow, someway.
District spokeswoman Lisa Wolf said the district has heard from parents who don't mind if the activity is structured or unstructured. They just want their child to be active.
Because of the layout of the campus or scheduling limitations, "unstructured recess is not going to work" for some schools, she said.
Christie Bruner, a "recess mom" and mother of two students at Shore Acres Elementary, said her group's goal was to implement unstructured recess district wide. Directive language requiring that the block to be spent outside or away from a computer would help would help, she said.
"I like any kind of physical activity, but it seems like they need to have some more regulations on what the county and the district want it to look like," said Bruner, 36, who lives down the street from Shore Acres. "It doesn't feel like it to us like it's something they want to implement from the top down. They're leaving it up to principals that's causing confusion from the administrative level."