Florida Senate scraps plan to end recess mandate in public schools

The Florida Senate has backed away from plans to end the state’s recess requirement after objections from “recess moms” and other advocates who argue young students need a daily break from academics and a chance to run and play.

But the Senate’s fiscal policy committee is to set to take up three bills at its meeting this morning that scrap key parts of the Republican education agenda that have been in place for more than 20 years, ushered in under former Gov. Jeb Bush. The items the Senate Republicans want to end include requirements that high school students pass two exams to graduate and third graders pass a reading test to move on to fourth grade.

Those changes have prompted objections from Bush and his supporters, and it is not clear yet whether they will have the support of House leaders or Gov. Ron DeSantis. But one Senate committee has already approved them, and they are to get a second vote today.

The GOP lawmaker spearheading the effort — Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee — last week, however, made a change that made some parents happy, filing an amendment so that the recess mandate would remain unchanged.

In 2017, state lawmakers passed a law requiring elementary schools to provide 20 consecutive minutes of “unstructured, free-play recess” a day.

Simon, in an early version of the bill (SB 7004) filed in November, proposed altering that requirement to give school districts the flexibility to set their own recess rules.

But that prompted lots of objections from those who’d pushed for the state recess law because so many schools had done away with recess, even for their youngest students. Recess advocates, who called themselves “recess moms,” said young children need a chance to run around, and that recess benefits both their academics and mental health.

“It gives them that break they need and allows them to focus better,” said Angie Gallo, an Orange County School Board member who pushed for the recess mandate and urged the Senate not to undo what their colleagues adopted six years ago.

“We’re thrilled that Sen. Simon took the language out of the bill,” Gallo said Monday. “We’re pleased he listened to the recess moms.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.