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Health Advisory Committee to Consider Policy of Withholding Recess as Punishment

Should the last-resort punishment be scuttled?

Should students be punished by having their recess time revoked? That's a question now under consideration at Arlington County Public Schools, where School Board member Noah Simon asked the School Health Advisory Board to investigate the issue and make a recommendation to the board.

“I'm very familiar with the policy - not for my own kids,” Simon said during a School Board meeting last week. “This is important to look at, and perhaps we can think of a different model.”

The policy of revoking recess as a punishment is in several Arlington handbooks, although it's mentioned as a “last resort” for behavior modification. Simon said he was concerned that the policy might not align with the county's ongoing effort to combat childhood obesity. School Health Advisory Board chairwoman Anastasia Snelling said her committee would take a look at the policy to see if the group could recommend a change.

“We're always looking at both sides of that equation,” said Snelling. “We've also looked at rewards, trying to reward children in other ways other than giving food rewards.”

STATISTICS REVEAL a sense of urgency. Obesity rates in Virginia have been steadily rising for the last decade, and the state's current obesity rate of 29.2 percent is higher than the national average. Southside and southwest Virginia have the highest obesity rates in the commonwealth. And even though Northern Virginia has the lowest obesity rates in the state, public health officials are still concerned. And a 2010 survey conducted by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth indicated that one in five Virginia children is obese.

“This research provides current estimates of overweight and obesity among youth in Virginia, as well as information concerning eating habits and physical activity levels that will help inform the development of strategies, programs and policies throughout the commonwealth,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Karen Remley in a written statement.

The epidemic of childhood has been a national concern for more than a decade, and state leaders have mandated local jurisdictions to create advisory committees and put together plans of action. According to the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, annual healthcare costs in Virginia related to obesity is a whopping $1.6 billion. That means obesity and its health consequences represents about 5.6 percent of the sate budget.

“I've had some conversations recently with Walter Tejada, the chair of the County Board, about the importance of the schools and the county collaborating on this,” said Abby Raphael. “We all have the same goals and I think we can use our resources together to address those issues.”

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS indicated that they are willing to step up efforts in 2013. Aside from reviewing the policy of revoking recess as a punishment, the elected officials may also be willing to put in a little sweat equity. After Snelling briefed board members on the recent work of her committee, School Board member James Lander suggested that the ancient Indian practice of yoga might align with the county's goals of addressing the “whole child,” which includes body and mind.

“Recess isn't just playing tag anymore. With technology, children are learning and their minds are moving a lot faster and sometimes the wellness piece is to slow down long enough to digest what it is that's coming at them,” said Lander. “I don't go to yoga as much as I should, but I pledge to participate if you guys get a class going.”

“We have that in the notes,” responded Snelling.

“We're going to have Mr. Lander do mindful meditation,” added School Board Chairwoman Emma Violand-Sanchez