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Dallas School Board This Week Will Consider Making Recess Mandatory

Currently, recess isn't mandatory in Dallas public schools, but a proposal under consideration would make it mandatory in all Dallas elementary schools.

The Dallas Independent School Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to make recess mandatory for all elementary students. That got us wondering: What are recess requirements in other North Texas schools?

What is Dallas ISD proposing and how is that different from what’s in place now?

Recess isn’t mandatory for elementary schools. If this proposal passes, all Dallas elementary schools would be required to offer a minimum of 30 minutes of recess every day in grades pre-K to fifth grade beginning next school year. For the remainder of this school year, elementary schools would be required to offer a minimum of 20 minutes of recess a day.

Where do other districts stand on requiring recess?

It varies and it’s completely up to the district. There’s not a state mandate, but some schools offer it.

In the Richardson school district, for example, students in the lower grades at the elementary schools get a minimum of 20 minutes of recess a day and students in the upper elementary grades get 16 minutes of recess daily.

In Garland ISD, there’s no recess policy, but schools follow a guideline of 20 minutes of recess every day for students in pre-k to fifth grade.

Frisco ISD allows 30 minutes of recess in elementary schools and the district discourages barring students from recess as a form of punishment.

Fort Worth ISD doesn’t have a recess policy, but a spokesman said the district is considering adopting one.

Recess used to be pretty standard, but some have said standardized testing has changed that.

“One of casualties of high-stakes testing was really the erosion of recess for elementary students,” said Jeremy Lyon, superintendent of the Frisco Independent School District. “So the nice thing is the bounce back has occurred and over the last 3 years or so, one school district after another has realized that recess is important.”

What do experts say are the benefits of recess?

Lyon and others said schools should focus on the whole child, that is their social, emotional and physical health. Activities like recess, they said, helps promotes brain activity.

KERA’s Christopher Connelly recently reported on an effort to add more recess in schools. He visited a school in the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw school district where 15 minutes of recess is offered four times a day through a project out of Texas Christian University called Liink.

One teacher, Cathy Wells, talked about spending less time sharpening pencils.

“You know why I was sharpening them?” Wells said. “Because they were grinding on them. They were breaking them. They were chewing on them. They’re not doing that now. They’re actually using their pencils for the way that they were designed – to write things! So that’s a big difference.”

What about the other districts participating in this project?

There are six North Texas schools, including in Irving. Kindergartners and first graders at Townsell Elementary take two 15 minute recess breaks before lunch and two 15 minute recess breaks after lunch.

“Teachers don’t spend a lot of time redirecting misbehaviors now," said Angela Long, principal at Townsell. "When they’re in the classrooms, they are more focused. I don’t see any negative effects. I don’t see teachers or scholars not having time to complete work or falling further behind than they were last year.”

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.