Austin ISD board to vote on changes to recess policy

Austin ISD's board of trustees on Oct. 10 discussed implementation of a new recess policy for the school district.

Austin ISD's board of trustees on Oct. 10 discussed implementation of a new recess policy for the school district.

Austin ISD’s board of trustees is slated to vote before the end of the month on a new recess policy that will mandate 20 additional minutes of unstructured recess time at all 85 of the school district’s elementary schools starting with a "soft implementation" this school year and full implementation by the 2017-18 school year.

Trustees discussed the implementation of the new policy, as well as the wording, during the board's Oct. 10 work session. The board did not take a vote during the meeting.

What’s in the policy?

The draft policy states that AISD students in full-day prekindergarten through fifth grade will participate in daily unstructured physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes as part of daily recess in addition to the 135 minutes of structured physical activity already in place in AISD. Cruz said the district also may stipulate that staff cannot withhold recess time as a punitive measure, noting the district does not want to use that kind of disciplinary action because it does not fit within AISD's "whole child, every child" philosophy and social and emotional learning goals.

“Recess is there for a reason,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said.

Chief Schools Officer Edmund Oropez told the board studies show unstructured recess time enhances cognitive abilities and has mental and physical benefits, including reduced body mass index and better classroom performance.

Most schools are already offering it

About 82 percent of non-Title I schools are already offering the extra 20 minutes of recess time, Cruz said. The 20 minutes would be added onto the time already used at each school.

Trustees said they were surprised to learn that many of the schools in the district designated as Title I do not offer recess time. Title I is a federal program that provides financial assistance to local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or percentages of children from low-income families.

Teachers will help decide schedules

The change will roll out at all schools in the spring as part of a “soft implementation” during which information about individual classroom schedules will be taken into consideration, Cruz said.

Trustee Ann Teich said it will be crucial to involve teachers in the decision-making about how to implement the policy. Cruz added the district wants to avoid unintended consequences, such as teachers having to drop instructional time for some subjects because of fear of how fitting the new recess time into class schedules will affect student test scores and accountability ratings.

The policy could be expanded

Trustee Jayme Mathias said he would like to see a policy that addresses recess time or added time for physical activity at middle and high school campuses as well as elementary schools. Cruz said the addition of recess time is on top of 15 minutes of unstructured time for reading, which the administration has already implemented in the district.