Friday, April 20, 2018
Politics

Lawmakers considered forbidding teachers from withholding recess. Not this year.

TALLAHASSEE — An elementary school student acts up in class. No recess for him.

Another student doesn't turn in her homework. Five fewer minutes of recess for her.

While some school districts, like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough or Pinellas, ban such practices, no state law prohibits public school teachers from dangling recess time before their students — a carrot to keep them in check and, if necessary, revoke as a tool to discipline them.

Florida lawmakers in 2016 considered prohibiting teachers from using the threat of limited or no recess as a punishment, but that detail isn't in the conversation at all this year as the Legislature again considers making daily recess mandatory in public elementary schools.

The provision was stripped from this year's legislation (SB 78/HB 67) — at the request of two now-powerful Republican House members who were the only ones who voted to oppose the recess bill last year.

Both House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Miami Rep. Michael Bileca, the education policy chairman, say they believe teachers should keep the flexibility to withhold recess.

"We shouldn't be tying the hands of good teachers," Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said in a statement. "They should have all the tools necessary to do their jobs effectively, and I trust them to balance the need for activity with achieving educational excellence for every child."

But Corcoran and Bileca's personal philosophy contradicts guidance from national health experts who say the practice of withholding recess to punish a student is "both inappropriate and unsound."

It's also ineffective in changing child behavior patterns and hinders the development of healthy habits for life, said Michelle Carter, senior program manager for the Society of Health and Physical Educators, or SHAPE America.

"We want children to have as many positive experiences around physical activity as they can," Carter said. "Taking away recess is only considered to be like a 'quick fix' by behavioral experts; it's not something that's really, permanently, going to solve a behavioral issue that's going on with a student."

At least eight states and the District of Columbia bar teachers from withholding physical activity, including recess, as a way to discipline a student for misbehaving. Florida isn't one of them — and the state Department of Education offers no guidance to districts on the topic, department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

Each school district, under state law, has the authority to set its own disciplinary policies, so practices can vary.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties prohibit using recess time to discipline students.

Pinellas County treats recess as "health education" time offered at least two days a week, so it's "part of the curriculum," said Shana Rafalski, executive director for Pinellas schools' elementary education.

"You wouldn't punish a child and say, 'You can't do reading today,' " Rafalski said.

Hillsborough schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja pointed to national research and standards for physical education, which — like the CDC and SHAPE America — discourage withholding recess to punish a child.

Angela Browning, an Orlando parent who helps coordinate fellow "recess moms" across Florida in advocating for daily recess, said removing the line from this year's bill was "a compromise" to garner Corcoran's and Bileca's endorsements. (Even with the line removed, though, Bileca is hesitant to support the statewide mandate.)

"We were willing to compromise because we want these kids to get a break," Browning said.

Miami Herald staff writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report. Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark.

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