Gov. Brian Kemp last week vetoed 14 bills and resolutions passed by the state legislature earlier this year.
But, perhaps, the most head-scratching veto, which drew visceral reactions and cries of shame across social media, was Kemp’s rejection of a bill that would have mandated daily recess in all public elementary schools across the state.
It is unclear how many such schools have limited or eliminated recess. But with more attention given to the testing demands of federal education policy, beginning with the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, recess, like arts and music education, has been scaled back in some parts.
But consistent physical activity can translate to big benefits in the classroom.
Unstructured play is critical to the social and emotional development of young students, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And, according to Voices for Georgia’s Children, a nonprofit child policy and advocacy organization, there is a six percent improvement in standardized test scores for schools which include physical activity in learning lessons.
Overall productivity in the classroom increases with play time, as well, according to Voices for Georgia’s Children, including a 20 percent reduction in time spent on non-academic activities resulting from behavioral health challenges.
The Academy of Pediatrics reports that the “downtime” of recess allows young students to better transition between complex cognitive activities, like reading and mathematics.
The bill Kemp vetoed, which supporters have been working to pass for several years, recommends 30 minutes each day and specifies that local school boards should write policies to ensure that recess not be withheld for disciplinary or academic reasons.
Exceptions included “inclement weather when no indoor space is available, assemblies or field trips exceeding their scheduled duration, conflicts occurring at the scheduled recess time over which the classroom teacher has no control, or emergencies, disasters, or acts of God.”
Kemp said that while he supported expanded recess opportunities for students, he vetoed the bill because it stripped the ability for local school boards to make decisions that are right for their district.
“I am a firm believer in local control, especially in education,” Kemp said in a veto statement. “This legislation would impose unreasonable burdens on educational leaders without meaningful justification.”
The veto won’t have any impact locally, but it does have school officials and teachers thinking about the important link between physical health and academic performance.
All Hall County elementary schools have recess, for example, according to Superintendent Will Schofield.
“Like the governor said, these are a bit different at schools based upon scheduling and local decisions,” Schofield said.
Jo Dinnan, director of Hall County elementary schools, said, “On average, our kindergarten through third grades currently receive 30 minutes of recess a day, while fourth and fifth grades receive on average 20 minutes.”
In Gainesville City Schools, with weather permitting, recess is made available daily for elementary students.
“P.E. is also provided an average of once per week, with some schools having it two times per week,” Superintendent Jeremy Williams said.
“All of our schools have playground equipment and a play field,” Williams added.
Having 30-45 minutes where students are responsible for their own play and interaction, coupled with the structure physical education curriculum, is clearly impactful, “especially in my higher energy kids,” said Shawna Bradley, a fourth-grade teacher at Fair Street elementary in Gainesville.
Fair Street Principal Gwenell Brown said recess “gives the students the break” they need and “time to be with friends.”
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier, headquartered next door to the school, sometimes contributes to recess and P.E. by helping organize games for students.
Recess can also be a nice reprieve for hurried teachers and faculty who also need to recharge.
Brown said each grade level has its own recess schedule, and it can be critical to behavioral health in the classroom, like getting rid of the proverbial “ants in the pants.”
Joy Holeman, also a fourth-grade teacher at Fair Street elementary, said she witnesses the positive benefits of recess each day.
With the ubiquity of things like video games and social media, “A lot of students don’t play at home,” Holeman said.
Holeman said she believes recess ought to be mandated in middle school, or at least up until sixth grade, to help elementary students better transition to the academic rigor that grows with each grade level.
“This is their time,” Holeman said. “They look forward to recess.”