SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah-Chatham County Public School Board members are not any closer to voting on a new recess policy.
The discussion at the first hearing for an unstructured break policy on Wednesday lasted several hours. Every board member at the meeting and several citizens weighed in on what the district's unstructured break policy should look like. The board's conversation ended with members still unsure.
"My overall recommendation, without getting into a long spiel, is we need to pull this item, get out heads back together and come back and address the issues that you made, and there [are] valid issues that the community's got out there that need to be addressed," said board member Larry Lower. "It's a hot tomato to the community with recess."
Board member Julie Wade says the district wellness committee worked on the proposal presented Wednesday for about two years, and it took a lot of compromises. It would change three essential things.
- Allow teachers and principals to oversee the length, frequency and timing of breaks
- Would not allow teachers to take away recess as a punishment, but keeps in place their current ability to take it away for academic or safety reasons
- Right now, the school board mandates 10 minutes of recess each day. The new policy would encourage 30 minutes of recess each day - something Wade says allows teachers and administrators to have control in their own schools.
"So why not mandate 30 minutes? Because schools are very fluid places with lots of things happening every day," Wade said. "If we mandate 30 minutes, we all know it takes one parent with a stopwatch to raise objections if we fall short. I do not want to be a board that mandates every minute of the school clock, but rather a board that sets policies and values for our school leaders to follow."
Alexa Frame, a parent who spoke at Wednesday's meeting, said when her two sons transitioned into a new school last November, they were often kept from recess to give them some extra time to catch up. When she took advantage of the district homework policy – swapping afterschool work for some unstructured play time – she and their teachers noticed.
"If my children were continually held at a wonderful school with wonderful teachers to learn some of these principles, they're going to become disruptive," Frame said. "They're going to have disciplinary problems. It's probably going to be repetitive. It's going to impact the teachers it's going to impact the whole class. Having more unstructured time improved their academics exponentially, and any time they did lose recess, it deteriorated."
Cristina Gibson, chronic disease prevention director at the Coastal Health District and Chatham County Health Department, said she encourages the board to adopt some sort of 30-minute activity policy.
"The best practices and all the research says 30 minutes of physical activity is the recommended," she said.
Gibson said many schools break those 30 minutes into smaller breaks throughout the day.
Board President Jolene Byrne said an encouragement policy simply isn't enough and want 30 minutes of recess mandated.
"If you're encouraged to provide recess but not required how quickly will we see schools say, 'We're not going to do recess this week because we have MAP testing and I gotta get my kids' scores up. We need more math,'" Byrne said.
Byrne, therefore, brought her own, new policy to Wednesday's meeting, which she says pulls the best parts of the district's current policy and the wellness committee-created one.
"It's just taking the best of each thing and putting it together in one, clear, succinct format," Byrne said. "It does, however, take away that aspirational language. It does take away the 'is encouraged,' and it says that we require it. We expect it. It's very reasonable. It says 30 minutes of recess on full school days, understanding that some days aren't full school days, and it gives the principal the freedom to schedule when [and] decide whether those 30 minutes should be broken into multiple segments or all at once. It gives the principal option of communicating with parents if for some reason recess can't be held on a particular day. I'm going pass this out and let y'all read this since it's not on this agenda."
Wade said on behalf of the board, she wished Byrne presented her plan to them ahead of Wednesday's meeting.
"I will make a public plea, Ms. Byrne, about something that most of the board members have been speaking about amongst ourselves for years, and that is a plea to please engage us outside of the board meetings," Wade said. "Instead of presenting a policy on the day when we're having the first read, come to a wellness committee meeting, call me up. Please engage us. We want to hear your input in a way that we can work together and incorporate it and include it. But shouting out on Facebook Monday morning and passing around a proposed policy, that you've clearly spent a lot of time on, at the meeting does not seem the most efficient use of time."
Byrne said, "At a certain point it becomes difficult to continue to engage."
That kind of disagreement is a prime example explaining why accreditation agency AdvancED is investigating the school board.
The Special Review Team report released last November said the board is violating standards, saying, "When the school boards are plagued with challenges among each other and with the superintendent, their roles and responsibilities can become blurred" and "understanding the difference between appropriate and inappropriate use of social media is imperative to operating as an effective board."
The board will bring up some sort of recess policy again in August, but whether it's a second reading of the one presented Wednesday or the first reading of a new one, members didn't say.