The ongoing debate over school recess has reached Gulf County.
At the Gulf County School Board meeting held last week, local parent Susan Kotelman presented her argument against recess being taken away as a form of punishment.
According to Kotelman, this punishment has been enforced multiple times at Port St. Joe Elementary School this year, with some punishments being doled out to entire classes.
Kotelman gave multiple examples of national organizations including the American Heart Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Academy of Pediatrics in agreement over the benefits of a 20 minute recess for young students.
“I really and truly believe, after looking at all these resources that no individual student, class, or grade should ever have recess taken away,” Kotelman said.
Kotelman stated that from her research she believes that recess helps keep children less fidgety, that their memory and attention are improved, that recess before lunch leads to healthier eating, that it could improve communication and social skills while reducing disruptive behavior, and relieves stress.
“This isn’t parents getting riled up. This is data,” Kotelman said.
While Superintendant of Schools Jim Norton agreed with Kotelman that recess is essential to young students, he wouldn’t go as far as saying that recess should never be taken away in the form of punishment, noting that individual cases are complex and different.
“Never and ever are words I try to avoid,” Norton said.
Norton says that while taking recess away as punishment happens on a very limited basis and is closely monitored to ensure that the disciplinary method isn’t over-used; it remains necessary due to the fact that Gulf County’s two elementary schools have no form of detention or suspension.
“That is not to say that we don’t value and take seriously the free time that every young child needs daily from the rigors of a class setting,” Norton said.
The superintendent also said there wasn’t a systematic breakdown in how Gulf District Schools handled recess, stating that elementary students get recess everyday, unless it has been taken away for punishment.
“I think I was probably one of those kids that were active and I looked forward to recess, I’m empathetic,” Norton said.
The Florida Legislature is also looking at the recess matter.
The Florida Senate unanimously passed SB 78 on the same day that Kotelman addressed the school board that would require a 20 minute recess everyday for students from kindergarten through fifth-grade, but would give schools room for discipline.
“Florida law is playing into what we are already doing,” says Norton.
The Florida House is to looking at school recess times with HB 67. That bill would allow recess to be coupled with physical education, which Kotelman doesn’t want to see.
“If you say that recess is like P.E. than you’re insulting P.E. teachers,” said Kotelman.
Kotelman says recess is unstructured play that allows young students time to unwind and explore their imaginations, while P.E. is a class with a curriculum that educators take time planning and implementing.
While Norton didn’t see eye-to-eye with Kotelman on every aspect of the proposed Florida Senate bill, he believes that if the bill becomes law it will be a big step for young Floridians and will codify what Gulf District Schools are already doing.
“We have a great school district here with a small town mentality,” say Norton. “We have every kid’s best interest at heart.”