Committee to look at Polk parents' recess concerns

Parents on a mission to bring daily recess to all Polk County schools got their say Tuesday night at a meeting with the superintendent, dedicated solely to the issue of letting kids be kids.

The demand for daily recess started as a grassroots effort. One parent's online petition led to comments at a school board meeting, which led to the town hall style meeting. Dozens of parents, teachers and kids at Highlands Grove Elementary took their concerns and mounting frustrations straight to the top.

"I believe recess is very important in the learning process," Carey Bills said.

The Billses are not the only ones. Nearly 3,000 people have already signed a petition demanding 20 minutes of recess, five days a week, in all Polk County schools, kindergarten through fifth grade.

150 minutes of physical education per week is a state requirement. Recess is not. And, some schools have phased it out to give teachers more class time.

"It's important to get outside so their mind is not learning, learning all day. So they can exert some of their energy," Bills said while passing cars honked in support.

Superintendent Kathryn Leroy started the meeting by delivering the facts. Out of 71 elementary schools, 56 in Polk County do offer recess; 15 schools do not.

"My gut tells me the 15 schools might be lower-performing schools that have been mandated by the state to spend more time instructionally supporting reading and those kinds of things," Leroy said.

Then, the superintendent took questions.

"Do you think physical education and unstructured recess are equivalent?"

She said no.

"Why are adults allowed breaks, while kids aren't?" one parent asked.

Leroy responded to the students and parents by explaining that she's on their side. 

"I am with you guys. I am not fighting against you. I agree kids need breaks. I agree adults need breaks. And so why we are here tonight is to figure out  what we can do as a community to come up with a plan to meet the needs of our children," Leroy said.

That plan comes in the form of an elementary recess committee. Parents, teachers, pediatricians and members of the Polk County Health Department will now be tasked with telling the school board how they'd like to see kids' school days structured and unstructured with the addition of recess.

"I will definitely apply," said Amanda Lipham.

For Lipham, who started the petition, the forward progress brings relief.

"I think she really is trying to work with us, she is trying to do what is best for the kids. I am certainly optimistic for that," Lipham said.

Joanna Vann, though not feeling quite as optimistic, also plans to apply.

"It leaves me very frustrated," Vann said.

Showing pictures of her son fishing and playing with earthworms, she explained why she is desperate to get her outdoors-loving son Tyler back to the place he loves for at least 20 minutes a day.

"He's not able to get that energy out," Vann said. "At home and on weekends and during summer, that's where he's at, he's outside."

Plans for this elementary recess committee are already in the works. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, October 27. Members will be selected by a community group called Polk Vision on November 2.

On November 30, the committee will bring their recommendations to the superintendent. The recommendations will then be presented to the school board on December 8.

The goal is to have the group's recess recommendations potentially implemented some time after the first of the year.