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Schools could be prohibited from using recess restrictions to discipline young students

Education advocates believe recess is reinvigorating for students and taking it away for disciplinary reasons can be counterproductive.

Kids spending long hours in school need a break for their social, emotional and physical well-being, Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina) told the House Education Policy Committee Friday.  

“As a clinical social worker, I can tell you recess is so critical for our young kids,” she said. “We want them outside. We want them moving.”

Children with special needs often face recess exclusion for actions beyond their control, she said.

Edelson sponsors HF3402 that would prohibit schools from excluding an elementary school student from recess as a form of punishment or discipline. The bill, which has no Senate companion, was approved 12-6 by the committee and referred to the House Education Finance Committee. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) voted with the DFL majority.

Republicans expressed concern about limited options when it comes to discipline.

“What do you expect teachers to do,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), a former school teacher.

Rep. Patricia Mueller (R-Austin) recalled sending only a handful of students out of the classroom for disciplinary reasons in her 20-year teaching career. She wants to know of possible training for teachers to help them in the classroom.

Simon Hofer, an autistic fourth-grader from Minneapolis, highlighted his own experiences. “When I was younger, some of my teachers made me stay inside during recess when they thought I was misbehaving. I didn’t like it.”

Hofer doesn’t remember what he may have done to merit the punishment, but knows his actions may have been caused by anxiety. “It didn’t make me feel good,” he said.

He said students need to eat and exercise. Taking recess away never works, he said.

Gwen Anderson, an educator from St. Cloud, said recess provides an unstructured time to students that can help them build capacity and develop relationships with other students.

Feroza Mehta was among many who sent a letter of support. She wrote “My daughter is in a French immersion public school. No special needs. General education classroom. It is common for kindergarten, first grade and second grade teachers to withhold recess for the entire class as a punishment for disrupting class or not following directions. Her third grade teacher did the same thing. The school also rewarded kids with an extra recess. They used recess as a system of reward and punishment instead of what it is intended to be: an essential break for children that helps their bodies and minds self-regulate.”

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