Parents push for more school recess time in Lafayette Parish

Fourth graders play during recess at Woodvale Elementary School in Lafayette Sept. 30, 2016 .  (Photo: LEE CELANO/THE ADVERTISER)
Fourth graders play during recess at Woodvale Elementary School in Lafayette Sept. 30, 2016 . (Photo: LEE CELANO/THE ADVERTISER)

(The Daily Advertiser) – Organizers of an online petition are asking for longer recess for Lafayette Parish public schools.

The petition, on the website, had 181 signatures as of Friday. It was started about a week ago by individuals who identify themselves only as “concerned parents.”

“In most Lafayette Parish Public Schools, elementary students are not allowed to speak during lunch or even while walking in hallways,” the petition states. “Most students have less than 20 minutes of recess per day. Recess is used as a bargaining tool for poor behavior and is the first thing to be taken away when students misbehave.”

The petition cites national studies that support longer recess times.

“There is much more to education than academics,” the petition states. “We have witnessed an increase in our children’s stress level, frustration, social anxiety and behavioral problems. It is the responsibility of LPSS to correct this by instituting a policy for longer recess time with free play.”

In Lafayette Parish, recess times vary per grade.

Kindergarten and first grade-students get a 10-minute break in the morning, a 10-minute break in the afternoon, 30 minutes of physical education and 20 minutes for lunch, said Joe Craig, the district’s chief administrative officer.

Students in second through fifth grades have one 15-minute recess each day, a 30-minute P.E. session and 20 to 25 minutes for lunch, Craig said.

Middle and high schools do not have designated recess times. Craig said those grades have 30-minute lunch periods.

Craig said district officials were not aware of the petition before this week.

“We definitely understand the concern,” Craig added. “With the demands of state accountability and our budget constraints, we’re trying to get as many academic practices in place as possible. But we certainly understand where parents are coming from.”

As for talking and socializing during other times, such as lunch, Craig said it often depends on the school.

For example, schools that are at capacity or over capacity often must move quickly to shuttle students in and out of the cafeteria for lunch in a timely manner, leaving less time for socializing. Other schools that may be less crowded can sometimes offer more time in the cafeteria for conversation, Craig said.

Craig said the district has not made any changes to the amount of recess or lunch time at schools in at least the last few years.

Some parents who signed the public petition said they have seen the effects of short recesses on their children.

Laurie LeDuc, of Lafayette, wrote that her son often says his recess time is reduced to five minutes per day.

“Even at 20 minutes, one recess is not enough. Most adults do not want to sit working for eight hours a day with just one break, yet Lafayette expects this of children,” LeDuc wrote. “Children will work harder and behave better if they get the proper time to play and socialize.”

Candice Delahoussaye of Lafayette identified herself as a teacher.

“Our students need to be given the opportunity to release energy outside at recess instead of during lessons when the time is not appropriate,” Delahoussaye wrote.

Bonnie O’Donnell-Painter, of Rosharon, Texas, wrote that she has five grandchildren in Lafayette Parish schools. She said she wants them to have more time to expend energy and build relationships with other kids.

“Too much restriction and silence is abnormally strict and does not promote a good learning environment,” O’Donnell-Painter wrote. “Let kids be kids for a few minutes per school day! This is like the dark ages.”’

Craig said each school administrator determines whether to take away a student’s recess time as a behavior consequence.

“No child is ever denied a meal,” Craig said. “For some schools, if you have a recess detention, you get your lunch first and eat at a separate table. At some schools, you eat last. It’s a site-based decision. It may appear harsh, but the attempt is to make it a low-level intervention so the student doesn’t have to stay after school or face a more serious consequence that takes away from the academic day.”

Although the petition cites behavior problems as one possible consequence of less recess time, Craig said an initial look at discipline data shows that infractions have declined in the last four years.

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