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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Education

Washington may require 30-minute recess at all schools

Feb. 22, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 22, 2023 at 9:32 a.m.

Students take to the swing set during school recess in 2019 at Orchard Prairie.  (DAN PELLE)
Students take to the swing set during school recess in 2019 at Orchard Prairie. (DAN PELLE)

OLYMPIA – Kids may soon have more recess during their school days, if a bill that passed the state Senate on Monday becomes law.

It helps them “get their wiggles out,” said Sen. T’wina Nobles, D-Fircrest.

During the Legislature’s annual Children’s Day, lawmakers, their kids and grandkids took to the Senate floor to vote on a bill to require at least 30 minutes of recess for elementary schools each day. The bill passed 28-21.

Requiring 30 minutes of recess helps meet the social and emotional needs of children, Nobles said.

But opponents had concerns about not allowing local school districts to make their own recess decisions.

For the 2024-2025 school year, public schools in Washington would have to provide daily recess for grades K-5, and grade 6 if it’s in an elementary school.

If a school district cannot meet the 30-minute requirement, it can request that the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction waive the requirement until it can comply.

Schools do not have to meet the 30-minute requirement on shorter days, such as half days.

A 2009 survey from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction found half of the districts that responded to the survey provided 30 to 45 minutes of recess a day, while a third provided between 16 and 30 minutes a day. Half of the respondents at the time provided two recess periods, with 21% saying they provided three periods.

The new requirement may not change much for a number of schools that already offer recess. The Central Valley School District, for example, gives kids 30 minutes of recess a day. At the Mead School District, students get between 30 and 40 minutes of recess a day, broken down into two breaks. The number varies per school, based on how much the school can set aside for lunch.

Anna Hernandez-French, at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, told a Senate committee last month that the agency supports having adequate recess, but was concerned about requiring specific minutes for instruction.

“There’s a lot that goes into a district building its master schedule,” she said.

Randy Spaulding, at the State Board of Education, said the board generally has a similar position about requiring certain minutes for subjects, but in a survey of elementary students, Spaulding said the board heard from children who want more recess.

The bill would ensure each elementary student has time for play as part of their learning experience, Spaulding said.

Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-Wenatchee, said the bill was “overly prescriptive” and could cause challenges for school districts. Hawkins proposed an amendment to the bill to encourage school districts to have 30 minutes of recess as opposed to requiring it. The amendment failed.

“I do support recess,” Hawkins said. “I don’t support mandates on all 295 school districts.”

According to the bill, recess must be supervised and aim to be safe and inclusive. It could include organized games, but should avoid computers, tablets or phones. It should be held outside whenever possible. If it’s indoors, students should have space that promotes physical activity.

Recess does not count toward students’ physical activity requirement.

The bill requires the Washington State School Directors’ Association to create a policy regarding recess.

Amanda Kost, representing the University of Washington faculty, said recess and physical activity are “critically important for mental health,” and students with good mental health can then achieve their academic goals.

Julie McCleery, at the University of Washington Center for Leadership in Athletics and the King County Play Equity Coalition, said youth in Washington are facing two crises: physical inactivity and poor mental health.

Recess would help address both of those, McCleery said. It could also help address equity issues in education, as children of color are more likely to have inadequate recess time.

“A commitment to recess is a commitment to equity,” McCleery said.

S-R reporter Emma Epperly contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had misspelled Randy Spaulding’s first name. 

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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