October 14, 2013 11:57AM
By Eric Vo
WALLINGFORD — If a student is misbehaving, does a teacher have the authority to take recess away as a form of discipline? If so, how could it affect a child?
It’s something the Board of Education questioned after realizing its policies don’t allow recess to be taken away from a student as punishment. The board is considering revising the policy.
During an a meeting earlier this week, board members expressed their opinions about the policy and how state and federal law might influence a decision to change it so staff can hold students out of recess for bad behavior.
The discussion started when board members reviewed a new physical activity policy that would complement the school system’s wellness policy.
The wellness policy was adopted after the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 required schools participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Child Nutrition Programs to establish one by the 2006-07 school year. It states “staff shall not deny a student’s participation in recess or other physical activity as a form of discipline or punishment, nor should they cancel it for instructional makeup time.” The federal government saw the rule as a way to help combat childhood obesity.
Not being able to take away recess from a student for any reason was something several board members did not favor.
Board member Michael Votto said if a student does “something inappropriate or something that could hurt someone else, they should be called out for it.”
“I don’t see what the problem is if a child stays at the wall,” he said. “If they stand by the wall for 10 minutes, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Whether taking recess away from a student is an effective form of discipline is an on-going debate. The Academy of Pediatrics published a policy on Dec. 31, 2012 stating the organization’s belief “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.”
“Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development, but also cognitive performance,” the policy states.
“… On the basis of an abundance of scientific studies, withholding recess for punitive or academic reasons would seem to be counterproductive to the intended outcomes and may have unintended consequences in relation to a child’s acquisition of important life skills.”
Robert Murray, co-author of the policy and a nutrition professor at Ohio State University, said allowing students to participate in recess is important for their development socially, emotionally and cognitively.
“It’s so important and the implications are so far reaching that these kids should never have recess taken away,” Murray said in a telephone interview.
Asked what teachers should do if a student becomes aggressive during recess, Murray suggested a time out.
“At recess, (teachers) do have the responsibility that the environment is safe and they do supervise recess well,” Murray said. “Any signs of peer-to-peer negative interactions or bullying has to be dealt with not just at recess, but hopefully as part of a school culture not allowing that kind of behavior.”
Some school board members were confused about whether state and federal law prohibits them from giving staff the authority to take recess away under certain conditions.
Once the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act was signed into law in 2004, it stated school systems have to adopt a wellness policy if participating in a federal program. The state Department of Education released “recommendations (not requirements) for policy language for Physical Education and Physical Activity” to help school systems develop new policies in accordance to the law, according to the state website.
Within these recommendations, the state advises school systems not to withhold recess from a student, nor using physical activity to discipline students. Wallingford is also considering the latter.
However, Public Act 13-173 of House Bill 6525, which was signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on June 21, states “each local and regional board of education shall adopt a policy, as the board deems appropriate, concerning the issue regarding any school employee being involved in preventing a student from participating in the entire time devoted to physical exercise in the regular school day” as a form of discipline.
Board member Kathy Castelli said the language in the state statute is confusing and can be interpreted to mean recess can be taken away from a student, so long as it’s not in its entirety.
“It just doesn’t make any logical sense to not be able to punish a student if they were misbehaving,” Castelli said. “If they’re displaying aggressive behavior against other kids, you have no option but to take them out of that situation.”
State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who chairs the legislature’s committee on children, said the state statute simply asks local school boards to adopt a policy.
“We decided to give that power to the local and regional boards of education, so they were to adopt a policy that they deemed appropriate when it comes to taking away any form of physical activity as a way to discipline,” Urban said. “We’re looking for them to set their own policy.”
Urban said the Wallingford school board can revise its policies to give staff the ability to take away recess.
Both Castelli and Votto said they were in favor of considering a change in the current policy.
Board of Education Chairwoman Roxane McKay said before a policy is formally approved and adopted, it must first come before the board three times. She is “in favor of further discussing the policy.”
“The kids can’t have free reign. They have to abide by those rules,” Castelli said. “… I certainly understand the reasoning because of the obesity problem and we want these kids to be physically active, but does that mean they can do whatever they want?”