• Caroline Kubzansky
    MAY 13, 2021


    Mandatory recess bill advances despite concerns over time constraints, teacher independence

    Director of Illinois families for Public Schools Cassie Creswell faced intense questioning from House lawmakers over a proposed law mandating 30 minutes of recess for Illinois elementary school students Wednesday.

    Lawmakers picked apart a bill meant to mandate 30 minutes of recess for elementary school students during a Wednesday hearing of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

    The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Aaron Ortiz (D-Chicago) has already scaled the measure (SB 654) back. The daily play requirement was reduced from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, and the amended legislation will only apply to students in Kindergarten through 5th grade instead of reaching up to 8th grade.

    The committee voted to advance the measure, but lawmakers said it will likely undergo more revisions.

    The bill has drawn significant attention: committee chair Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg) introduced the measure to the committee with the announcement that 736 proponents and 1,018 opponents had filled out slips to publicize their stance on the legislation.

    Despite the opposition, Ortiz maintained his position on the importance of building play into the school day.

    “If, as a state, we don’t require [play], test prep pushes it out,” Ortiz said. He argued that unstructured time could help children recover from the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, improve overall educational outcomes and prevent behavior problems.

    Illinois Families for Public Schools director Cassie Creswell told committee members recess was a “virtually no-cost, low-tech intervention” to boost student outcomes.

    “Without passing a state law, the truth is in the era of high stakes test-based school ratings, no school or district is going to pull out of a test-prep arms race to try it,” Creswell said.  

    Alison Maley, a representative of the Illinois Principles Association, said her organization would not oppose the amended legislation, which would only apply to elementary schoolers.

    “Especially in grades 6-8, it’s really difficult to try to squeeze in this time due to changing classes and additional mandated curriculum at that level,” Maley said.

    But some legislators were still skeptical of the measure.

    Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) wanted to know if teachers would have to “count the minutes” of playtime: “If we did have a 30-minute mandate... is the teacher going to have to submit their weekly lesson plan and specifically have times accounted for ahead of time?”

    Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) worried mandatory recess would prevent teachers from giving one-on-one help to struggling students. He asked how schools would pay supervisors for the unstructured play period.

    “If you mandate this, you’re not going to lengthen the day, you’re going to take away from reading, writing, arithmetic curriculum?” he asked. Cresswell replied that research supports a 15-minute break for every hour of on-task time to best support students, but Friess was still skeptical.

    Dr. Amy Dixon, the president of the Illinois Principals Association, shared Friess’ worry.

    “Something has to give, something has to be taken away,” she said. “I do have concern about not taking away recess, because there are kids who really thrive from that one-on-one time with teachers.”

    Witness Raoul Gaston, the principal of Illinois’ Jefferson Middle School, broke a school day down minute-by-minute for legislators to illustrate his point about the challenge of adding another 30 minutes of unstructured time for students. 

    “We have 405 minutes of total time from 8:30 to 3:15,” Gaston said. “Out of that we lose 27 minutes for passing... Another 70 minutes are 30 minutes of lunch and 40 minutes of [physical education]. That’s 97 minutes... that we’re not on task or on course.”

    A mandate for unstructured play, he said, would force him to take away time from his students’ academic time.

    The committee passed the measure 14-9 with the understanding that it would return to committee for another amendment.

    Legislators also passed SB 2357, which adds new repercussions for teachers found guilty of committing sexual misconduct, on to the House Floor despite Rep. Steve Reick’s (R-Harvard) insistence that “the measure doesn’t go far enough.” However, Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Pawnee) said “we do have to take steps forward,” and the measure passed with a unanimous vote.

    Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect bill number for Ortiz's recess bill. The Daily Line regrets the error.

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