Barbara Larrimore started pushing last year to earn more recess for kids in Prince William County schools, only to find that she would need some help in Richmond to make real progress. Now, as the General Assembly’s 2018 session heats up, she may very well have the support she needs to get students more exercise.
Larrimore, a mother of three in Lake Ridge, has teamed up with another group of parents in Fairfax County to advocate for more recess time in Virginia schools, and they seem to be making some headway on the matter. Del. Karrie Delaney, D-67th District, and Sen. Chap Petersen, D-34th District, are backing similar bills aimed at giving local school boards the option to expand recess times for elementary schoolers, and both pieces of legislation are picking up steam in the legislative process.
Petersen’s bill has unanimously passed the Senate, while a House subcommittee unanimously endorsed Delaney’s bill on Feb. 2 for consideration by the full education committee, with a hearing likely on Feb. 7.
To parents like Larrimore, who believes Prince William’s 15 minutes of recess time each day is woefully inadequate for her kids at Lake Ridge Elementary School, the legislative action is quite welcome news.
“Everybody I’ve talked to about this can think of an example of how it would help students,” Larrimore said in an interview. “I think people would love to see the dial swing to a more active school day for small kids.”
Larrimore was initially afraid she might struggle to find a delegate to back a bill in Richmond — her former representative in the House, Republican Rich Anderson, had previously agreed to help Larrimore work on the issue, but he lost his seat to Del. Hala Ayala, D-51st District, last fall — but she said Delaney was eager to get on board with the push, considering the issue hits home for the new Fairfax-area lawmaker.
“I’m a mother of two myself, so I get it,” Delaney said. “My peers are the ones advocating for this...and when I heard people saying they’re deeply concerned that their young child doesn’t have enough time during the day for unstructured play, I listened.”
Delaney also pointed to evidence that unstructured physical activity can help kids increase their focus in the classroom, and she found support for this sort of legislation from a host of advocacy groups, like the local chapters of the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But she also wanted to be sensitive to the whims of the state’s many school boards, so she crafted legislation by “approaching it from a place of flexibility.”
Local school boards are currently required by state law to provide students with a set amount of classroom time each year, but they can’t count recess toward meeting that standard. Delaney’s bill would let localities include “unstructured physical activity” like recess as part of the “instructional time” goals they have to meet each year, and also set standards on how much time would have to be dedicated to four core subjects: English, math, science and history.
“We’re not telling them they have to change anything,” Delaney said. “We’re simply giving them more flexibility to respond to the needs of children in the classroom.”
Petersen’s bill has the more modest aim of simply letting school boards count recess as instructional time, without setting standards for the other subjects. Larrimore feels that bill only “gives us half of what we want,” as it might force school boards to consider recess alongside other non-core classes (like art or music) when setting school schedules each year.