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Utah schools could count recess as instructional time under proposed rule change

Students at Terra Linda Elementary School in West Jordan play basketball during recess on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Students at Terra Linda Elementary School in West Jordan play basketball during recess on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public schools could count recess as instructional time under a policy endorsed by a committee of the Utah State Board of Education.

The board’s Finance Committee voted unanimously Friday to approve a rule change to be considered for final passage by the full board at a future meeting.

Under Utah law, public schools must conduct school for at least 990 instructional hours over a minimum of 180 school days each academic year.

To protect instructional time and comply with pupil accounting regulations, some administrators feel pressure to cut recess periods despite research that shows recess benefits children academically, socially and physically.

“These changes would allow recess periods and alternative breakfast models, where breakfast is consumed in the classroom, to count in the instructional time,” said Jeff Van Hulten, policy adviser to the board.

According to Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, several studies demonstrate that recess helps children to be more attentive and productive in the classroom.

“A student’s ability to refocus cognitively was shown to be stimulated more by the break from the classroom than by the mode of activity that occurred during that break; any type of activity at recess benefited cognitive performance afterward,” the journal states.

While the proposed rule change leaves the scheduling of recess up to charter schools or district schools, it gives them more latitude to hold recess without worry that their school will be out of compliance with state pupil accounting laws.

“Hopefully they’ll have more recess now,” said board member Michelle Boulter.

“That’s the hope,” said board member Laura Belnap.

Students at Terra Linda Elementary School in West Jordan play basketball during recess on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Students at Terra Linda Elementary School in West Jordan play basketball during recess on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

According to the Pediatric article, recess is at the heart the vigorous debate over the role of schools in promoting the development of the whole child.

“A growing trend toward reallocating time in school to accentuate the more academic subjects has put this important facet of a child’s school day at risk. Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it,” the article states.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons, the journal states.