This summer, it was reported that all elementary schools in the Austin Independent School District would be required to provide half an hour of recess every day.
But, the policy isn’t in place just yet.
“What we want is the recess, is the unstructured play where kids can go out on playground, and do what they choose," says Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the local teachers union. "If it’s to sit down under a tree and talk to a friend, great. If it’s playing on the swings, great. If it’s running around kicking a ball, great.”
The half-hour recess requirement would be in addition to gym class and the district’s 20-minute structured playtime, known as WOW time.
Education Austin was just one group that pushed the district to create a recess policy, which doesn’t currently exist. The School Health Advisory Council has also advocated for a recess policy for years.
Even though the idea was announced in August, AISD hasn’t required schools to provide those 30 minutes yet because it needs to be approved by the school board. The district doesn’t plan to bring it before the board until next month. Chief Schools Officer Edmund Oropez says many campuses had already created their schedules for this school year.
“We’re a large district," says Oropez. "To implement something to scale like this, it takes a while for everyone to tee it up and get everybody ready to go.”
School Board President Kendall Pace says she doesn’t think there will be any opposition from the board.
“There’s ample research out there that says students need it. I have three sons. I personally live it. Students need to get out and have physical activity," Pace says.
The proposed policy also says recess cannot be withheld from a student as punishment, or leveraged as a time to finish homework. Zarifis with Education Austin says teachers and parents were concerned students in lower-income schools weren’t getting enough play time.
“It became clear to us that schools that were the higher needs schools, schools struggling with state tests were clearly schools that were not being provided unstructured recess," Zarifis says. "And, as you started looking at schools that had less of a challenge around those areas, they were more likely to have unstructured recess.”
Right now, 24 of AISD’s elementary schools have recess for 20 minutes or more. Ten of those schools are in lower-income areas east of I-35. But that means more than two-thirds of the district’s elementary schools don’t have a set policy. The proposed policy would also require students get structured playtime in addition to recess on days when they don’t have gym.
If the board approves the policy, it would go in effect in mid-October. But as of now, Oropez says there's no set plan to monitor if elementary schools are implementing the program.
"We have the Associate's Superintendent's office and others that always visit campuses on a regular basis and kind of just check with it," Oropez says. "We have great principals out there and they're going to implement it."