Bill passes requiring mandatory recess at all NJ public schools

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UNION CITY, NJ— Reading, writing and arithmetic are the subjects typically required in elementary school, of course, but New Jersey is adding recess to the three R's.  The New Jersey state legislature has approved bills mandating recess at all public schools, from kindergarten to fifth grade.

However, as some school administrators point out, while ensuring that every child has recess every day may seem like a no brainer, it may be easier said than done.

A case in point is Colin Powell Elementary School here.  It's a state of the art, three year-old facility with just about everything a family could ask for: stimulating arts, just 19 students to every faculty member, and that faculty just won the latest of their many state excellence awards.  But even at Powell Elementary, there's one thing missing.

"At my school, we don't have recess," said third grader Dylan Callahan.  "We don't play in the playground loads of the time."

At Powell Elementary, recess is part of the regular schedule for kindergarten through second grade students, as well as for fifth graders.  For third graders like Dylan, and for fourth graders, some other state requirements have precluded them from getting recess.

"Due to standardized testing," said Powell principal Teresita Diaz. "it's going to be a little hard to tell the teachers [that the students] need a break, because their focus is on testing."

Principal Diaz pointed out what many schools, including hers, are dealing with.  New Jersey's PARCC Common Core testing requirements have made many schools focus more in recent years on ensuring the students are ready for exams.

That emphasis on testing, created in part by the state legislature, is the reason the legislature has now passed the recess requirement.  It calls for all public schools to have recess 20 minutes a day for all K-through-5 students.

"That is great," said Sandra Zimmer, Dylan Callahan's mother.  "I'm really happy that they're doing that."

Many administrators, like Ms. Diaz,  agree, but she pointed out that some challenges will have to be overcome to make daily recess for all a reality.  "If it becomes a law," said Diaz, "I assume the superintendent of schools will readjust our periods of the day."

That may require bigger budgets, which the legislature has not passed in the bills which have not become law just yet.

Both the state senate and the state assembly have passed separate versions of the school recess bill.  Those two versions will have to be merged into one for Governor Chris Christie to sign, which he's expected to do.

However, the session in which the two versions can be merged is not scheduled to take place until after, ironically, the legislature completes a recess of its own. The holiday recess lasts until the first week of January.

The recess requirement is expected to go into place in the 2016-2017 academic year.