Mandatory recess bill advances

First grade students at Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley hit the playground for their morning recess Wednesday, February 1. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

Photo by Les Stukenberg.

First grade students at Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley hit the playground for their morning recess Wednesday, February 1. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

PHOENIX – Arizona elementary school students are a step closer to getting time each day to pretty much do what they want.

Without dissent the state House on Monday gave preliminary approval to a requirement that students in kindergarten through fifth grade be given at least 50 minutes of “unstructured recess.” HB 2082 needs a final roll-call vote before going to the Senate.

Rep. Jesus Rebalcava, D-Gila Bend, who has taught hyperactive students, is pushing the measure based on his belief that giving students a break during the day will help them focus better when they come back to class.

For Rep. Pamela Powers Hanley, D-Tucson, the issue comes down to physical health.

“Back in December I was shopping for clothes for my granddaughter,” she told colleagues.

“It was so sad to see plus sizes in the little girls’ department,” Powers Hanley continued. “We need to get our children up and moving.’’

The measure could still run into trouble over the issue of a state mandate.

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said if the idea of recess is so great schools would be doing it already. And he questioned whether it’s a good idea for the state to be dictating the policy.

Rubalcava, however, said sometimes it’s necessary for lawmakers to intercede.

“I want them to recognize that recess is just as important as reading and math and writing,’’ he said.

“Until we have it mandated, it will never take that precedence,” Rubalcava continued. “Therefore, there are school districts that won’t take the option of offering the recess.”

Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said he’s not disturbed by the mandate, seeing it as an antidote to a host of other directives about what schools need to teach.

“This bill tries to compensate for us telling them to teach to the test and do this and do that,” he said. “So if we’re going to tell them what to do, let’s do it in a balanced way.”

Lawmakers did tinker with the measure a bit before the vote.

They specifically added a definition of “unstructured recess” to mean a period during which adults do not define the activities or social interaction of students “except for setting reasonable health and safety restrictions.” And it permits schools to include the lunch recess in that 50-minute mandate.

The measure also was altered so that schools which offer only half-day kindergarten need offer only 25 minutes of recess daily.