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Dist. 15 listens to protests: Don't mess with recess
Even Richard Simmons piped in
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/10/2010 12:01 AM

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Several months after a public outcry one administrator called an "unrelenting backlash from a small group of parents," two schools in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 have decided to increase the amount of recess for their students.

Assistant Superintendent Mary Zarr submitted a report to the school board that recess during the 2010-11 school year will double to 40 minutes at Jane Addams School and increase by 10 minutes for a total of 30 minutes at Virginia Lake School. There will be no change at the remaining 13 elementary schools.

"We want the schools to have local control and make site-based decisions, but we aim to have a 30-minute minimum across the district," school board member Sue Quinn said. "There was obviously a strong negative reaction from some parents, so I'm pleased with the change."

Last fall, Virginia Lake and Jane Addams joined Willow Bend School as the only three District 15 schools to have 20-minute recess periods. All others had 30 to 40 minutes.

Zarr wrote that Jane Addams was pleased with the new schedule and experienced no problems, and that students, the staff and most parents adjusted well at Virginia Lake.

But some Virginia Lake parents protested the shortened recess periods and presented a petition criticizing the decision. One parent even contacted exercise guru Richard Simmons, who made a video imploring District 15 to reconsider filing for a waiver excusing it from the state's physical education requirement.

"If this policy is allowed to continue, our kids miss out on over 3,500 minutes this year alone," Virginia Lake parent Gina Kowalski said in November. "That's an astounding 58 hours of lost physical activity and socialization."

But Virginia Lake saw many benefits from the 20-minute recesses, Zarr said, including a reduction in the amount of administrative time spent on discipline.

The number of office referrals for major infractions during the recess and lunch period dropped from 225 in 2008-09 to just 85 this school year. Staff members also observed that the shorter period didn't have an adverse effect on behavior the rest of the day.

Zarr added that instructional time was preserved and the efficiency of Virginia Lake's system increased over the school year, allowing it to expand outside recess time to 25 or 30 minutes.

It's unclear what the effect of restoring the longer recess at the two schools next year will be, but Zarr wrote that budget cuts in District 15 have resulted in a staffing ratio for noon-hour supervision of 60 students to one supervisor - the low end of the state's recommended range.

Recess: Administrator supported previous decision