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Legislative Updates — May 31, 2019

LITTLE ROCK – Elementary school students in Arkansas will get at least 40 minutes a day of recess under legislation approved earlier this year by the General Assembly.

Act 641 of 2019 amends state law concerning the school day. It requires at least 40 minutes of each day be used for recess, which will be outdoors when the weather allows. Recess will be unstructured, although of course it will be supervised.

Recess includes opportunities for free play and vigorous physical activity, whether it takes place inside or outside.

Why was it necessary for lawmakers to guarantee a certain amount of time for children to play? And why did lawmakers feel the need to define recess? To anyone over a certain age, it seems ridiculous.

That’s why Act 641 recognizes what has occurred in the classroom over the past few decades, during which numerous instructional requirements have been added to the typical school schedule.

“Educational leaders cannot allow for a sufficient amount of time in the school day for recess within the current construct of the instructional requirements and time allotted in a school day,” the act reads. The consequence is that students have decreased focus on academics, and fewer opportunities to develop social skills with their fellow students.

Among the valuable lessons that young children learn in school is how to engage with each other, thus increasing their social awareness. Much of this learning takes place during recess.

Schools may apply for a waiver from the state Education Department, but they must propose an alternative allowing children social time that is either structured or unstructured.

Each year the Education Department will report to the legislative Senate and House Education Committees the schools that have been granted a waiver.

The act was approved easily during the regular session, passing the House by a vote of 90-to-0 and the Senate by a vote of 34-to-0.

Act 641 is one of many ways in which adults are trying to change a social trend that has seen children spending more time sitting in front of a screen. It may be a television, a video game, a cell phone or a computer monitor.

One example is Play 60, a program sponsored by the National Football League. NFL players join non-profit organizations, children’s hospitals and schools to encourage children to be active for at least 60 minutes a day.

Children learn about nature through hikes and field trips sponsored by hunting, fishing and conservation organizations.

The preamble of Act 641 summarizes the consensus among adults, that children “need more opportunities for physical activity during the school day in order to promote healthy and active lifestyles.”

Another new law passed earlier this year will affect high school students. Act 617 of 2019 repeals the requirement that when teenagers apply for a driver’s license, they must show proof that they have a grade point average of at least a C.

Under Act 617, when teenagers pass the written test their score will be valid for two years. That gives them more time to pass the driving portion of the test.


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