The School Board voted last week to require elementary schools to provide students with between 100 and 125 minutes of recess each week, ending a tumultuous debate over how much time Arlington children can spend frolicking on the playground.
The board favored a middle course between Superintendent Robert Smith's recommendation of mandating 95 minutes of recess per week and parents calls for a half-hour of unstructured play time each day.
“This is a compromise that would maximize recess but still provide flexibility for principals and still [allow] us to meet" state requirements for instruction, said School Board member Ed Fendley.
In a 3 to 1 decision, board members also directed schools to give Kindergartners between 135 and 150 weekly minutes of recess, contending that additional free time is crucial to the social development of the system's youngest children.
FOR WEEKS parents have lobbied board members to recognize the health and educational benefits of increased recess periods.
"If kids aren't running around and getting challenged, they are just going to be squirming in class and teachers are going to spend more time on discipline than on education," Mark Katzenberger told the board before it voted on the measure, which is part of the school system's new wellness policy.
Board members said that the ruling supplies principals with a large degree of flexibility over how they want to structure their school days. Principals have the authority to juggle school schedules, separate lunch and recess or abbreviate lunchtime.
"This is aspirational and it gives people a sense of the amount [of recess] we think would be great without saying you have to get there," said School Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes.
Yet Superintendent Smith said he was "concerned" that prolonging recess would drag schools below the 990 hours of instruction mandated each year by the state.
The only way to meet state requirements would be to shorten lunch periods, he said. "That's the way it's going to happen," Smith added. "I'm not sure we want to do that."
Yet the School Board may be looking to extend recess breaks in the future. Both Fendley and Hynes expressed an interest in adopting a minimum of half an hour for recess, in order to give children a greater amount of exercise.
"I remain convinced that providing all kids with 30 minutes is in their best interest," Fendley said. "We have heard so strongly from [the public], and should show leadership on this."
ADDITIONALLY, the board endorsed an amendment by Hynes stipulating that in the fall of 2007, schools without an early release day will give students between 120 and 150 minutes of recess a week. By then at least three Arlington schools are expected to forgo early release days to allow for additional time for educational programs.
Smith condemned the move, arguing that school planners do not yet know how new foreign language programs in two of these schools will affect scheduling.
"You don't need to take this action now," Smith said to the board. "It's not necessary. If you want to do it later, you certainly can."
But Chairman Dave Foster, who proved to be the swing vote, said that four additional minutes of recess every day would not have much of an impact on curriculums. "We're trying to give local schools more flexibility," he said.