- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Opposition from school districts concerned about added costs led an Arizona Senate Committee to gut a bill Thursday that would have required schools to offer at least 50 minutes of recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The Senate Committee on Education voted 6-1 to send the legislation to the full Senate. The House already passed the bill on a bipartisan 39-20 vote in February.

Freshman sponsor Rep. Jesus Rubalcava, D-Gila Bend, said his experience as a special education educator taught him unstructured breaks are critical for students to stay focused and perform during class time.

Rubalcava said students used to get short recesses in the morning and afternoon and a longer lunch recess but that’s gone away.

“We are so focused on test prep and on ensuring that we’re meeting all these standards and we’re forgetting we have seven year olds in their seats for long periods of time with excess energy wanting to release…and go play and be kids “

The amended bill only requires one unspecified block of recess per day for students attending charter schools or traditional schools. It also strikes a requirement that stated unstructured time couldn’t be withheld from students as punishment unless parents were notified in advance.

Currently, recess policies in the state are up to the discretion of school districts and charter schools to decide on their own.

Despite a positive push by parents, the measure was also met with mounting disapproval from the Arizona School Boards Association. Chris Kotterman, a spokesman for the organization, testified the measure would not only lead to potential extra costs for schools but would take away their ability to structure their own schedules.

“It’s an issue of where the appropriate authority to mandate these things lies,” Kotterman said. “And we believe it lies with the school board.”

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said despite the changes made to the bill, she still supports a separate block of time for recess outside of students’ lunch periods. Allen said she will make further amendments to the measure once it reaches the full Senate.

“I’ve received a lot of pressure about this bill,” Allen said. “I personally believe children need a break. And I think this should have never ever have gone away.”

Supporters of the measure say the amended bill would not safeguard students’ needed recess time.

“The current striker amendment basically ignores the numerous studies and evidence regarding the cognitive, academic, social, emotional and physical benefits of recess,” executive director of the non-profit Pinnacle Prevention Adrienne Udarbe said.

Udarbe said her efforts to deal with the issue on a local level have not prompted change and further prove a need for state intervention.

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