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Illinois House passes bill requiring 30 minutes of recess for K-5 students

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SPRINGFIELD – Elementary school children in all public schools in Illinois would be entitled to at least 30 minutes of unstructured playtime each day under a bill that passed the state House on Saturday.

That’s only half the amount of playtime that the original bill would have required as it passed out of the Senate. The original bill also would have applied to students from kindergarten through eighth grade, but the bill was narrowed as a concession to opponents that included groups representing teachers, principals and administrators.

Even with those changes, Senate Bill 654, which some have dubbed the “right-to-play” bill, cleared the House by the smallest allowable vote total, 60-52.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Robert Peters and Rep. Aaron Ortiz, both Chicago Democrats who recalled their own time in school without being allowed recess time.

“Yes, it's personal to me, because I never had recess growing up, ever,” Ortiz said on the House floor. “And I don't want to see any child in our state to go without an opportunity to have recess.”

It wasn’t immediately known how many Illinois schools do not currently provide daily recess. A number of lawmakers said it was common practice in Chicago Public Schools, but Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, a former teacher, said she had seen it elsewhere.

“And I can tell you exactly why it was cut out. It was because the people who sat in these green chairs decided that the only way to know if children learned was to make them test, test, test,” she said. “And so the schools, the teachers, the principals, the students feel so much pressure from these tests that they don't even feel there's time to go out and play because there's so much anxiety.”

Under the amended bill, all children from kindergarten through fifth grade would be entitled to at least 30 minutes of “supervised, unstructured, child-directed play” during any school day lasting five clock hours or longer. That time could be divided into two recess periods of 15 minutes each.

During days that last less than five clock hours, the time allotted for play would be at least one-tenth of the day.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, discusses the state budget on May 27. Rose and other GOP senators advocated for maintaining various pro-business tax incentives that were rolled back in Gov. JB Pritzker's initial budget proposal.

Schools would not be allowed to use physical education classes as a substitute for recess. Nor would they be allowed to withhold recess from a student as a form of discipline, unless the student’s presence poses an immediate threat to the safety of others.

“Play develops social skills, teaching children how to organize, cooperate, resolve conflict, share, and lead,” Ortiz said. “Play gives children the freedom to be creative and explore.”

Several House members, however, questioned whether mandatory recess time would take away from instructional time that schools are also required to provide across a wide range of subjects.

“We think about the state testing that's required in reading, math and science,” said Rep. Daniel Swanson, R-Alpha. “These administrators are going to have to take time out of some class to make up that 30 minutes or they drop, possibly music, they drop possibly art, or they drop some other curriculum to make up for that 30 minutes.”

Ortiz, however, said the time could be broken up into 15-minute segments and that each school would have the ability to decide for itself how to reallocate the instructional time.

The bill now heads back to the Senate, which passed the original bill on a 36-16 vote in April, to decide whether it will concur in the changes made by the House.


Watch now: Tour of Illinois state parks

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