Illinois students may soon have required recess

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Illinois students are one step close to a mandatory recess break if one of state Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s (4th) bills, which passed the Senate May 10, becomes law.

Lightford’s bill, SB 636, would require schools to offer children in kindergarten through fifth grade an outside recess – weather permitting – of at least 20 minutes. Schools would be encouraged to offer sixth  grade through eighth grade students recess, but the law will not require it, according to a written statement from Lightford’s office.

The senator, who’s district incorporates parts of Austin, also pushed through a separate bill, SB 3259, that would create a commission to study high school graduation rates across the state, along with dropout prevention methods and increasing the dropout age.

Both bills need to be considered by the full House for final approval.

Mandatory recess will help to improve students’ ability to learn, health and social skills, Lightford said.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that kids need to be kids,” Lightford said. “Our children deserve a chance to play and relax during the school day. Learning to make friends and use your imagination is every bit as important as learning multiplication and grammar.”

Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children, a national advocacy group that aims to ensure all students graduate from high school, said the organization fully supports Lightford’s bill that would consider increasing the state’s drop out age from 17 to 18.

In 2005, Illinois rose the school drop out age from 16 to 17, and since then, the state has seen fewer dropouts, Handy said. In fact, the drop out rate decreased from 4.6 percent in 2004 to 2.7 percent in 2011.

The results have been positive, and increasing the age to 18 “makes a lot of sense,” she said.

Jill Whol of Raise Your Hand Coalition said she supports a mandatory recess break. For too long, a majority of Chicago Public Schools students have gone without recess, she said.

“I’m glad to see the legislature are getting interest in putting some teeth behind and addressing some of the shortfalls that Chicago children have had for decades,” Whol said.

When asked why she thought sixth through eighth-graders would not have mandatory recess under the bill, she said it might be because those grades are usually required to have physical education class.

“For the older kids, there may be other options,” Whol said. “But again, it’s so dependent on facilities. Any good policy has to accommodate for people to overcome challenges.”

Overall, she said she’s pleased with the Senate bill, and hopes it will move forward.

“Starting from somewhere is a great start,” she said. “We can move the policy continuum forward. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.


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