Va. public schools can extend recess this upcoming school year with new law

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Children may get more fresh air when they go back to school this year.

Going outside to play is something parents, like James Chalifoux from Richmond, try to do every day with their kids.

“[Noah and I] try to get to the park or spend some time outside. At least 30 minutes a day,” he said.

Kindergarten is right around the corner for the 4-year-old. Chalifoux says he notices how their evening routine changes when Noah hasn’t had enough time to play.

“But I can only imagine trying to get him to listen, pay attention without enough exercise,” he said.

That’s something other parents, like Barbara Larrimore, noticed too when her son went to kindergarten. She started “More Recess for Virginians” after seeing how what happens in the classroom affected her family.

MORE: Hampton Roads elementary students could get more recess

“Childhood is so precious,” she said. “We didn’t want our kids to be sitting still all day and we didn’t want them to be punished for behaviors that were age appropriate.”

Larrimore is one of the people behind the push to extend time for recess. A new law (HB 1419 / SB 273) went into effect July 1, allowing school divisions and communities to extend recess for elementary schools, including “uninstructed recreational time” with “instructional time.” More specifically, it allows schools to have up to 15 percent of the required 5.5 hours of daily instructional time to be used for recess. That’s about 50 minutes.

“So to the extent that we can add a blend of activities, recess, downtime and as well as classroom time, in a way that makes sense for that particular school. That’s the right policy for us,” Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) said. He co-sponsored the House version of the bill.

Del. Keam was at a round table discussion hosted by Richmond Memorial Health Foundation with Playworks, educators and Larrimore on Tuesday, that focused on the legislation.

The law is not a mandatory change, each community can decide on their own whether or not to adopt the changes.

“If a group of parents lobby their school board, their teachers and say this is a change that we want to make, the flexibility is there to be able to do it,” Larrimore said.

Prince William County is one of the school divisions that decided to extend recess, doubling it from 15 to 30 minutes.

Ashland Elementary Principal Andy Jacks says giving the kids time to play helps them build relationships and take a break during the day.

“Because much of their regular school day is so structured and tight, that even if the average adult did the exact same routine, they would need a recess as well,” he added.

The legislation does not detail a formal way for school divisions to report this change in the curriculum to the Department of Education. So, officials with the Department of Education say there is not a formal list of all of the schools making this change. Some of the areas extending recess include Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, Suffolk counties and Norfolk.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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