Austin local wins mandatory 30-minute recesses

Education Austin in August announced it was successful in its year-long effort to make at least 30 consecutive minutes of unstructured play time—otherwise known as recess—mandatory at all Austin ISD elementary schools. The new policy also would prohibit taking away recess as punishment or requiring students to do schoolwork during recess.

The local union worked with the district’s Health Advisory Committee to push the new rules, and they were accepted by administrators, who are now trying to work through the logistics of getting the full half hour into the school schedules district-wide through the course of the fall. Administrators also are uncertain if any of the changes would need approval from the school board, although several board members reacted positively to them in media accounts. (The item was scheduled for the October Board agenda after the Texas Teacher deadline.)

Campuses had been free to set their own time limits on recess, or have none at al, in addition to time already required for structured physical activity. While some schools already had 30-minute recesses, others—particularly those struggling to meet accountability standards by adding extra academic time—had 20 minutes or less. District benchmark testing and state-mandated standardized testing also ate away recess time in many schools.

Kids Playing Basketball
Kids Playing Basketball

“Over the course of accountability and testing, we have seen less and less time for kids to play and be themselves,” said Ken Zarifis, Education Austin president. “The campuses that are low socioeconomic, that are struggling with scores, that’s where you see less recess, and one can argue they need it more than anyone.”

Research has shown that unstructured play time improves social interaction and spurs healthy brain development. And as any teacher can tell you, recess helps kids release a bit of energy that otherwise might be devoted to fidgeting or disrupting class.

The move in Austin follows a similar 30-minute requirement enacted in Dallas ISD this year. A survey there had found that more than 78 percent of elementary schools had recesses 15 minutes or shorter. A state law passed in July in Rhode Island now requires a minimum of 20 minutes. However, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure, and Florida’s state Senate also rebuffed the idea.

A Fort Worth area district—Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD—last year started a pilot project giving kids at one elementary school four, 15-minute recesses a day. After extremely positive feedback from teachers and administrators, the pilot was expanded to three other campuses. The idea was based on a Finnish model for physical activity and free time studied by Debbie Rhea—a Texas Christian University professor of health sciences and instructor for physical education teachers.

She dubbed the model the LiiNK Project (Let’s Inspire Innovation ’N Kids) and also is working with several other Texas school districts to implement the program.
For more information on the LiiNK Project, see