State Politics

Daily school recess requirement passes important test in Florida Senate

Kindergartners make plea for recess

Kindergartners at Miami Gardens Elementary School seem to have all the facts down about the benefits recess can bring. These energetic 5 and 6-year-olds feel the need for some sunshine and fresh air.
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Kindergartners at Miami Gardens Elementary School seem to have all the facts down about the benefits recess can bring. These energetic 5 and 6-year-olds feel the need for some sunshine and fresh air.

Parent-driven efforts to require daily recess in Florida’s public elementary schools cleared a key milestone on Tuesday: An actual hearing — plus a favorable vote — in a state Senate committee.

Although similar legislation last year earned near-unanimous approval in the House, senators never had the chance to formally consider the issue, because one committee chairman refused to take up the bill.

Not this year.

The 7-0 vote by the Senate Education Committee gives the recess legislation (SB 78) a more viable path in the upcoming session, which begins March 7.

Senators heard only praise from seven supporters in the audience who spoke, and there was no discussion before the senators voted to advance the bill out of its first of three committees.

There is a silent opponent: Some of Florida’s school districts are wary of another statewide mandate that would force them to carve out time in the school day.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the Senate’s sponsor, said the recess bill exemplified “the power of advocacy, of parents.”

The measure — which requires elementary schools to provide 20 minutes of “unstructured free-play” daily — resulted from the pleas of passionate “recess moms,” who have urged lawmakers to act in the absence of action by local school boards.

Here we are again — asking you to please act in the best interest of all Florida students.

Kate Asturias, a member of Recess for Miami Students

“Parents came in 2016 because local districts have failed us,” Kate Asturias, a Miami-Dade parent and member of Recess for Miami Students, told the senators. “Here we are again — asking you to please act in the best interest of all Florida students.”

A survey by legislative analysts found only seven of Florida’s 67 county school districts had policies specifying recess five days a week during the 2015-16 school year. Fifty-six counties — including Broward, Hillsborough and Pinellas — didn’t have board-approved policies at all but might have still offered recess.

After last year’s session, just one district — Orange County — adopted a new policy to require daily recess.

Miami-Dade Schools amended its recess policy over the summer to allow for more time, from at least two or three days a week to as much as four days. Recess is still not required daily, although 11 schools are testing that out.

The statewide recess proposal has support from health and physical education experts. Research shows recess benefits mental and physical growth, social development and academics by helping children to be more attentive in the classroom.

While the legislation is off to a smooth start in the Senate, it has yet to get off the ground in the House.

Despite last year’s success, lawmakers and stakeholders agree the House poses the bigger hurdle now because Education Committee chairman Michael Bileca is reluctant to support a statewide mandate.

Bileca, R-Miami, and now-Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, were the only two House members to vote against last year’s recess bill.

The House companion this year — SB 67, by Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia — awaits its first hearing before the Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Chairman Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said earlier this month his committee would start considering bills after session began.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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