Fate of Recess Bill lies in single senator's hands

- Recess - something many adults experienced two or three times a day - is now considered a luxury for many children in Florida's elementary schools. 

Parents across the state have been fighting; calling on their state representatives to take back the playground for their kids. A new bill, the Recess Bill, would guarantee Florida's elementary school children at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted free play in a school day.

The bill was embraced by the House, where it was reviewed and passed by three committees, and now awaits final passage by the full House.

With more than 50 co-sponsors, it's expected to pass.

In the senate, however, the bill appears to be going nowhere. It's been stuck in the education committee for nearly two months, with no action taken.

Senator Alan Hays (R), the senate sponsor of the bill, blames Education Pre-K-12 committee chairman, Senator John Legg.

He said Legg refuses to put to put the bill on the agenda, thereby keeping it from a vote.

"Senator Legg needs to give the bill the chance to let the senators vote on it," said Barbara Hedge, a Pinellas County mom. "The senators represent us and our children. Let them vote 'no' if they want to, but [Legg] needs to put it on [the agenda]. One man should not block the entire process."

Numerous studies show recess is crucial to a child's physical, mental and social development. Parents, however, say with with increasing pressure on school districts to prepare kids for state and county tests, teachers and principals are doing away with play time.

"Everyone's goal is higher achievement levels, higher test scores, more focus and the way to get there is not necessarily more academic time equals more academic success," said Christie Bruner, who helped build support across the Bay Area for the bill. "They need the time to get the wiggles out in order to have that success and that focus."

The state mandates elementary school children receive at least 150 minutes of physical education each week, but there are no regulations on recess. For many children, that means 3 days of PE in a given week, and two days with no physical activity at all.

"My teacher said after testing is done we're going to start doing recess towards the end of the year," said Oliver Fader, a Pinellas County third-grader.

Fader says his class hasn't had recess at all this year. He says his favorite part of his school week is P.E. class, but he only gets three days of P.E. in a week.

On days where he doesn't get an exercise break, Fader says it's hard to concentrate, especially as the day wears on.

"I feel kind of jumpy and restless," explained Fader.

For now, Fader and his classmates may just have to wait until the end of the school year, and the end of the testing period, to get back this cherished part of the school day. With only two weeks remaining in this legislative session, the Recess Bill likely won't make it through before the final bell. 

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