Requiring schools to have daily recess for kindergarten through fifth grade would appear to be a terrific idea. So thought a majority of the state Legislature, which passed a bill mandating such a recess. Supporters, including public health and children’s advocates, worked for several years to pass the measure as a way to combat childhood obesity, improve academic performance and reduce misbehavior in class.
Those are clearly worthy objectives, especially the prospect of cutting Georgia’s obesity rate of nearly one in three adults, according to the latest CDC report issued last year. The rate increased from 30.5 percent in 2014 to 31.6 percent in 2017. Analysis released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed 18.4 percent of Georgia youth ages 10 to 17 were obese, among the highest rates in the nation. Although hard data on younger children are not available, we may assume that many have obesity problems.
In view of the facts and the overwhelming approval of HB 83 by the Legislature — 160-11 in the House and 48-4 in the Senate — it seemed a foregone conclusion that Gov. Brian Kemp would sign the bill into law. Instead, he vetoed it. In his veto statement he went to the core issue of local control versus state control, an issue that should be paramount when it comes to the schools. The governor observed that “broad authority to make recess policies for students” resides with local school boards.
“This local control allows school boards to set these policies based on a thorough understanding of day-to-day educational operations as well as regular interaction with administrators, educators, families and students,” Kemp said. “House Bill 83 would dramatically restrict this local control, stripping long-held authority from school boards. While I support expanded recess opportunities for Georgia’s students, I am a firm believer in local control, especially in education. This legislation would impose unreasonable burdens on educational leaders without meaningful justification.”
Kemp’s rationale was endorsed by Marietta Superintendent Grant Rivera, who said, “Local school districts and local boards of education should retain local control because we will make decisions that are most aligned to our school needs and community interests.” Rivera made a telling point, which is at the very heart of the matter, saying, “If it starts with recess, it’s going to continue with other things and we don’t need micromanagement.”
That is right on the mark. Under local control, the Marietta district has the flexibility to follow its policy of providing a recess for all K-5 students while not requiring the recess. Similarly, the Cobb County system has a policy of providing “opportunities for students to engage in physical activity on a daily basis” as appropriate.
Again, recess for all students undoubtedly is good for them, health-wise. This was emphasized by HB 83 lead sponsor Rep. Demetrius Douglas, a former Georgia Bulldog linebacker and now a high school football coach in Henry County. “It’s a health initiative first,” he said. “It’s about our future. These kids will be running our state.” With first-hand knowledge of the problems and the needs, Douglas made a strong case for the legislation.
Yet, despite all the good intentions and the positive effects of daily recess, the decision on recess policies, like other policies such as school start times, is the responsibility of the local boards and their administrations. That is where the responsibility should remain. But clearly the need for daily breaks and exercise, whether by recess or other means, should be met by local officials.
It is up to those most affected by school policies to seek desired changes in policies by working with the local school boards and school officials. If this approach is not successful, there always is the ultimate recourse of electing school board members who will respond to the needs of their constituents.