By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

New Jersey now requires children to get at least 20 minutes of unstructured playtime or recess every day.

Starting this year, students in kindergarten through fifth grade are required to get a daily recess, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed the recess bill into law on Aug. 10.

Montclair elementary school students already get a minimum of 20 minutes, with kindergarteners as much as 40 minutes, for daily recess.

Rachael Quinn Egan, a Montclair parent and an advocate for longer recess times, said the law is a good move for elementary school students, many of whom had lost recess altogether.

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“However I do wish that middle-school-age kids had been included, as they still need a break,” said Egan.

In Montclair, recess time lengths vary from school to school.

Students in first grade through fifth get 25 minutes of recess each day as part of a 50-minute lunch and recess period. At Hillside students are given 30 minutes of recess. Kindergarteners are given additional recess time with two, 25-minute blocks each day.

The new law does not require middle-school level recess. At Montclair’s middle schools, Buzz Aldrin and Glenfield offer 20 minutes a day, while Renaissance offers 25 minutes.

At Glenfield however, the decision to offer recess is often left to the discretion of the individual houses within the school. Students there are broken up into six houses. Two of the houses have the students sit and read during recess time, according to a data sheet that the district compiled on recess times at the schools.

Regarding the law in general, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said, “We value the necessity of recess in our instructional programs.”

However, several parents have petitioned the district to offer at least 40 minutes of recess a day. The petition also called for students to have outdoor recess unless the temperatures dropped below 20 degrees, and for students not to have recess withheld for punitive reasons.

“In regards to the petition, we were not able this year to adjust our K-8 schedules to include 40 minutes of recess and still satisfy the NJDOE requirements for various content areas. We will always revisit this effort as we acknowledge and support physical movement as an essential brain reset activity,” Johnson said.

The law states a student may not be denied recess unless for actions that violate a district’s student code of conduct, such as bullying. Students can also be denied recess on the advice of a medical professional, school nurse or based on the recommendations of a student’s special education plan.

Schools cannot use the recess period to meet certain course requirements, such as physical education.

Egan was critical of the “Drop Everything and Read” practice in place at some of the Glenfield houses. “It is a means to deny recess to our children who need a real break where they can choose their own activity. I hope our middle schools can come out of the dark ages on this one.”