Onteora forum will explore recess controversy

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Recess is the time of day, usually before or after lunch where elementary school age children are given the chance to have free open play, usually outside, for 20-30 minutes. But why has recess on a national level become a subject of controversy and debate? And why are local parents protesting the trimming back of recess in order to make more time for studies, catch up on homework, or used as a tool for discipline?

A forum that will explore these questions and more will take place at the Onteora Middle/High School Cafeteria on November 10, from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. During a recent meeting, school board president Bobbi Schnell requested for the forum, “…school guidelines, recommendations, class schedules, what schools offer during recess, temperature guidelines.” She added, “we are going to have a three minute time limit to make sure that we can have as many people speaking as possible and I believe (trustee) Rob (Kurnit) is going to be the facilitator.”

In an email statement Schnell added, “The BOE held a recess forum in the spring and heard from parents and teachers. At that forum we decided to hold another forum in the fall, at a later time in the day, so other people might attend.”


Over the past few months, parents have been lobbying the Onteora Central School District Board of Education to create a policy on recess that will define it as exclusive and important to the health of the child. Neither the district nor the State has a policy. But through the 2004 Health and Wellness mandate, the State supports recess in addition to formal Physical Education.

Currently, Onteora district grades Kindergarten-through-six have recess for one-half hour daily in addition to formal physical education. But recess is often used as leverage for misbehaved children and taken away for punitive reasons. Parents have spoken publicly at Board of Education meetings stating that they believe the unruly behavior is because their child sits for such a long time during class. Parents believe that behavior would be modified if a child had the chance to run around and blow off some steam. Additionally, children may stay in to practice music, catch up on missed homework, or receive extra help from a teacher.

Bennett Intermediate School grades-four-through-six appears to be the main target for having the most punitive reaction for denying recess. Parents who have spoken before the board want this to stop, however teachers have pushed back, saying that withholding recess is the only leverage they have when students are disruptive in class.


Recess allows better focus

Standardized high stakes testing that began with the No Child Left Behind and accelerated through Common Core, is another cause for recess being trimmed back.

But protests from parents and students refusing tests, coupled with First Lady Michelle Obama’s push for more physical activity in schools has seemed to put open play time as a priority. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies have suggested that recess allows children to focus better. A Gallup poll conducted in 2009 through The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asked 1,951 principals what they thought about the value of recess. It said, “overwhelmingly, principals reported that recess has a strong positive impact on academic achievement. Students listened better and were more focused after recess.” Principals also reported that it helps with social development and well being among peers.

According to the CDC, 17 percent or 12.5 million children between the ages of 2-19 are obese. According to the New York State Department of Education, in New York State (excluding New York City and private schools) public school students fall in line with the National average of 17.3 percent. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes of physical activity daily, in addition to good nutrition. Since children spend a large amount of time in school, the target is to provide quality physical activity before, during and after school.