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Florida Senate eyeing public school recess reform

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Among the education deregulation policies prioritized by Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo during a committee meeting Wednesday is one that may change the way schools offer recess to students.

One part of a trio of bills likely to be considered during the 2024 legislative session would mandate that schools provide 100 minutes of recess over a week rather than the existing mandate of 20 minutes every day.

Sen. Corey Simon, chair of the Education Pre-K committee, said that although districts would still need to see that students receive the full 100 minutes of recess a week, the reform would give greater flexibility to districts. Some, the senator said, provide half-days or have other circumstances that make it difficult to mandate some programs daily.

“[The bill] doesn’t do away with the requirement,” Simon said. “All this does is push it down to the district so that you all can sit down with your superintendent, and you can sit down with your school board, and have that discussion.”

Other reforms on the table include streamlining teacher certification and training, removal of policies mandating school boards provide economic security and district guidance reports to parents, and removal of the requirement that each school district offer summer voluntary prekindergarten.

The recess initiative drew several dissents during the public comment potion of the committee meeting. Angie Gallo, an Orange County School Board member, was among the “recess moms” who, in 2017, successfully lobbied for the 20 minutes a day mandate.

Gallo told the committee that while she understood wanting to give the districts flexibility, she wasn’t confident they would do the right thing.

“‚Äč‚ÄčThis is a wonderful bill. We just implore you to please, please, leave the mandate alone,” Gallo said. “What you’re doing will really make the mandate useless.”

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said that while the trio of bills had a mixed bag of policies he supported, he agreed that the state needs to return power to the school districts.

“School districts should not be run from Tallahassee,” Spar said. “I think the Department of Education has too much influence on school districts, which interferes with what parents want to see.”

Kids need recess time, Spar said, but districts should have more autonomy over the programs the state mandates they carve out time for — such as physical education, math instruction, and independent reading.

The committee unanimously passed along the bill containing the recess reform on Wednesday.

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