Brookline kindergarten children need more play and recess than has been allowed in recent years, and the time to make some changes is now.
Our School Committee and interim Superintendent Ben Lummis can show strong leadership by remedying this problem that is hurting our children, their educational outcomes, and our ability to achieve community goals for equity.
The current Brookline recess policy for grades K-5 is 140 minutes per week, for an average of 28 minutes per day, as codified in the School Committee’s Policy Manual within the “Wellness Policy” section.
Time for recess is inherently limited by the statewide requirement of 900 hours of “structured learning time” per year for elementary schools imposed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Under the current regulations, recess and lunch do not count as structured learning time.
There have been legislative proposals on Beacon Hill to modify those state regulations, such as the current H. 426 sponsored by Rep. Marjorie C. Decker, D-Cambridge.
But so far the recess-excluding rules remain in place.
So given Brookline’s 180-day school year calendar and our daily schedules including holidays and “early dismissal” days, the time we can allocate to recess and lunch is limited.
But the state regulations differentiate kindergarten from other elementary grades.
Specifically, for kindergarten, the structured learning time requirement is just 425 hours per year rather than the 900 hours required for older elementary students.
A mathematical analysis of our school-year calendar reveals that Brookline could in fact give kindergarten children up to three hours of recess per day while still meeting the state’s 425-hour annual requirement for structured learning time.
A spreadsheet modeling our calendar and solving for structured learning time requirements is available at tinyurl.com/PSBCalendarMath.
Even as a current, volunteer kindergarten “room parent” at the Runkle School, I think three hours of recess per day would be too much.
But the School Committee could easily and reasonably change the recess guidelines to five hours per week, or an average of one hour per day, for kindergarten only.
Interim Superintendent Lummis could then instruct principals to give kindergarten teachers the clear permission to increase recess to a total of up to 60 minutes per day as they see fit, based on their perceptions of the educational, physical, and emotional needs of the children, including their views as to what would contribute most effectively to equitable outcomes.
The kindergarten teachers know best what is in the interests of the students and what would be most equitable, as they are the ones spending every day in the classrooms with our children.
Yet after kindergarten teachers spoke publicly at a School Committee meeting in June regarding the highly restrictive scheduling imposed on them, Superintendent Andrew Bott (since resigned) and Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Nicole Gittens sent a districtwide letter that appeared to challenge our kindergarten teachers’ honesty, integrity and representations about what goes on in our district and in our classrooms.
That letter showed poor judgment and contributed to a divisive, morale-crushing environment entering the school year.
The timing was particularly bad given that our educators’ contract expired Aug. 31, and we have begun this current school year without a new contract in place.
The entirety of this unfortunate situation is an opportunity for the School Committee and Mr. Lummis to demonstrate leadership and commitment to positive change by immediately granting kindergarten teachers, via principals, considerably more discretion over time allocated to recess.
Allowing up to one hour of kindergarten recess per day, at the discretion of each teacher, would be an easy “win all around.”
Our children will thrive more and have better, more equitable educational outcomes; our kindergarten teachers will appreciate the newly-demonstrated respect and flexibility; and the School Committee and the Office of the Superintendent will convey to our entire community a willingness to ease up on the tight confines of centralized control and centrally-dictated scheduling that has become the hallmark of our district.
As a current room parent at Runkle this year, I’ll be expecting and hoping for a positive, community-uniting outcome on this issue.
Mike Offner is a Town Meeting Member, Precinct 12.