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Every Massachusetts elementary school student should get at least 20 minutes of recess a day, according to a state representative who is championing a bill to mandate playtime for children - in a campaign that may face pushback from the state's superintendents.
Today, legislators will take up a bill filed by State Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) that would require schools to offer a minimum of 20 minutes of "supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess" a day.
While many schools offer recess, Decker said, it can sometimes be withheld by teachers looking to discipline students or under pressure to prepare for state tests - even though a mountain of studies show giving students breaks and exercise helps them learn.
"I absolutely appreciate and understand when recess is taken away for the most part - teachers are under enormous stress and demands that we as legislators and policymakers are putting on them," Decker said. "But it can't be at the expense of recess. The irony is we're taking (students) away from something that helps them become better learners."
Decker said enforcement of the 20-minute recess would be up to Department of Education officials, who will testify at today's hearing.
"Enforcement will come naturally once teachers and parents and students know that 20 minutes of recess is part of the day ... I know a lot of teachers and parents will welcome codifying this into state law," Decker said. "I assume the best of superintendents and principals and teachers. Once they're told it's non-negotiable, they'll figure it out."
But mandating recess under state law could lead to complications, according to Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Thomas Scott. He said while his organization has not yet taken a position on the bill, he could see the bill's definition of recess unintentionally excluding successful programs and taking away local control from districts.
"I'd rather leave the flexibility up to local schools on how to provide unstructured time. A technical term is only going to hamstring schools that have different and unique opportunities for kids," Scott said.
He added that districts should address teachers who withhold recess as a punishment, but said he did not regard that as a basis to justify a new law.
"I hate making mandates on isolated cases. We do it too often and I don't think it's a policy in the interests of the vast majority doing the right thing," Scott said.
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