August 17, 2016

An Open Letter to Superintendent Vitti and the DCPS School Board #recessmatters

Dear Superintendent Vitti and Honorable members of the DCPS School Board,

I was shocked and deeply disturbed when I was handed a copy of my child's daily schedule for Second Grade this morning. There are a couple of issues I feel I need to bring to your attention:

  • This schedule fails to meet the state mandated requirement for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. With the current schedule, my child will receive a mere 45 minutes every six days, as P.E. is part of the rotating Resources.
  • The state mandates a 90-minute uninterrupted reading block per day. 120 minutes is recommended. You are requiring our students to sit for a full 150 minutes of ELA per day. Two and a half hours with no break.
  • The state of Florida requires four (4) hours of instruction per day for grades K-3, five (5) hours per day for grades 4-5. My daughter will receive more than five (5) hours of instruction every day in Second Grade. And be given no opportunity whatsoever to be a child.

There is plenty of room in the school day for recess, and you should be providing it.

To be frank, my child's schedule this year is absolutely ridiculous. And it flat out stinks. Our children deserve so much better.

Parents are shocked and we are outraged. I have been in touch with parents across the district. What I am finding is a) there is a troubling lack of consistency - within and between schools - in how recess is managed and, b) parents are extremely concerned and upset their children are being denied recess. In many cases, they are leaving the public school system for this very reason.

Every Duval County elementary student deserves recess.
 When you deny it, you fail to fulfill your stated mission.

The lack of recess availability during the school day across Duval County is atrocious and goes against all that is known and has long been understood and supported by extensive empirical evidence about what children need to thrive and succeed in their academic pursuits. It undermines what our schools are trying to achieve.

Daily recess is a necessary break from the rigor and curriculum of the classroom. Students learn leadership skills, social skills, use their imaginations, explore their interests, and when a recess period has taken place, research shows they return to the classroom better able to focus on the task at hand. Brain imaging has recently been able to show that when children are given a break to have unstructured free play, they return to the classroom better able to focus on instruction. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and countless early childhood development specialists recognize this. It is maddening it has even become an issue that requires attention. States across the country are making more time for recess - and reaping the benefits - while here in Duval many students receive none.

Our children need unstructured play time during the 6.5 hour school day. And to be clear, recess and Physical Education are different, not interchangeable. Each provides unique benefits, and both are an integral part of our children's education. The differences between recess and physical education are well-researched and well-settled. Physical education is a class, led by an educated, trained, and certified teacher. It includes an instruction component and a requirement that children follow directions, pay attention, learn concepts and put those concepts into practice via action, the success or failure of which is often measured via an end-of-course exam. There are Florida Standards attached to the Physical Education curriculum and children are expected to show learning gains. 

Physical education is NOT a break from the school day. Moreover, "Teacher-Directed P.E." qualifies as neither P.E. nor recess. Yet the district tries to pass it off as both in an attempt to skirt the law and assuage parents.

No more! Our children deserve recess. And as parents we expect you to provide it. This will help our children with the important task of learning the skills valued by our school system as well as contribute to cognitive development (especially the ability to self-regulate -- which fosters learning in a classroom) and social and emotional development (also long been known by developmental psychologists to contribute in vital ways to academic success). 

Children make great advances in all of these areas of development during middle childhood, precisely the years they are in elementary school and facing increasing academic and social demands.

DCPS is failing to meet a critical developmental need for our children. And that is unacceptable. I expect to hear directly from you about why our children's emotional, mental and physical well being are not your priority.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Ross
DCPS Elementary School Parent

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