As students and parents prepare for the new school year, Lawrence school board members may be taking aim at teachers denying recess as a way to discipline children.
At a recent goal-setting meeting, several school board members voiced concerns. School board member Rick Ingram, for example, said children need time to run around and re-charge after spending hours in class.
"Teachers need something to get kids under control, but I would hope they could find something else," Ingram said.
School board member Randy Masten said sometimes teachers reward students by giving them candy. Then when the children get amped up on sugar, they misbehave and have recess taken away, Masten said. "It just isn't sensible. You hit them with a double whammy," he said.
And Adina Morse said she has seen children at Hillcrest Elementary not only lose recess but be required to walk along a line in a square while their schoolmates run around and play. She described the punishment as something one might see in a prison.
"It can't continue. It just can't," she said.
Lawrence School Supt. Rick Doll said the district has no districtwide policy on denying recess, leaving it to teachers and administrators at each school.
He said questions about recess will probably come back to the board later in the year as the district develops new guidelines that promote positive behavior supports in the classroom.
"The recess discussion will be part of that," he said.
Tammy Becker, principal of Hillcrest Elementary, said taking away recess is used only as a last resort, and it is never taken away for the entire 15-minute recess, but usually for three minutes to five minutes.
"We understand the importance of physical activity and wellness," Becker said. "We all need a break and to get out and move."
As far as walking the line, which Morse described, Becker said that also is usually only for a few minutes and is done instead of having the student who has been taken out of recess sit on a bench, she said. "I don't believe people are doing anything intentionally to hurt anyone," she said.
But Becker said sometimes teachers need to deliver a major consequence for inappropriate behavior. "We have great kids, but there are times when it's one thing after another and then they lose a few minutes of recess," she said.
Becker added that if the school board were to decide that recess should never be taken away, then the administrators and teachers would follow that policy.
Some research supports recess and says that denying it just produces more problems. Even so, polling of principals shows that most schools will take away recess.
"Recess is just something that kids need," said Robert Harrington, a professor in Kansas University's Department of Psychology and Research in Education.
Children need recess for a physical outlet and to learn how to socialize with other people, Harrington said. Also pulling a child out of recess sets up the student to ridicule and bullying, he said.
But Harrington, who teaches courses on classroom management, constructive classroom discipline and bullying, concedes that teachers face daunting challenges.
"Teachers try to do the best they can," he said. He said elementary school teachers "live their lives quite a bit isolated in a classroom. They are on their own with 25 or 30 kids, and they make decisions in the moment. They don't always have a big backup plan," he said.
Suzanne Rice, a professor in KU's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, said taking away recess denies children the opportunity to exercise self-discipline, which is a major goal of education. Also, she said, for a child to learn about what isn't acceptable, discipline should be connected to the offense.
She said, however, teachers face a tough job because much of what teachers try to do with students requires students to be attentive and working on task.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says recess should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons. "Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom." It also provides social, emotional and physical benefits.
In 2009, the journal Pediatrics published a study that showed third-graders who had recess behaved better in the classroom and were likelier to learn more than those who didn't have recess.
Even so, taking away recess as a punishment is widespread. Seventy-seven percent of principals reported take away recess for unruly students, according to a 2010 Gallup poll, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.