Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Last week, some Syracuse City School District parents got a newsletter saying recess would no longer be scheduled for students at Meachem Elementary School, which got some families fired up.
On Tuesday, about 100 people attended a PTO meeting at the school, where parents, teachers and representatives from the school district discussed the issue, which many say was a failure to communicate.
"Recess to me is very, very important because...next what will it be? Art? Will it be music? What comes next?” asked parent Meghan Doss.
Concerns for parents at Meachem Elementary School were met with reassurance.
Meachem Elementary Principal Melissa Evans said, "No one walks away from here thinking that we've taken away recess. We are putting recess in the schedule, making sure K-5, that we all have it."
But that's not the case for all elementary schools in Syracuse. Recess has always been optional; the challenge this year is finding time. With new rules for teacher evaluations and accountability, schools now have to report each minute they devote to classroom instruction.
A master plan, developed by each elementary school, outlines expectations for a 6-hour day:
- 120 minutes for English Language Arts
- 80 minutes for math
- 45 minutes each for sciences and social studies
- 40 minutes for student specials like art or gym.
- Add 30 minutes for lunch and there's no clear room for downtime.
"It’s not about test scores. It’s about developing kids of character, of inner-wealth. Those things that we all know are important that have kind of been forgotten because now we're just, you know our kids are just a grade,” said School Psychologist Michael Gilbert.
District Chief Academic Officer Laura Kelley said, "I don't think that schools that decide not to implement recess are not ever going to provide opportunities for social and emotional development in their students. Recess is just one way."
The dilemma has sparked a larger debate as Syracuse schools face pressure to improve some of the lowest reading and math scores in the state.
“It wasn't just the recess. I think a lot of us have had concerns with the way the direction of education has gone for our students for a number of years and I think for most of us, this was just the straw that broke the camel's back,” said parent Robyn DeGaetano.
Individual elementary schools are left to make their master plan, while still meeting the state’s standards. Tuesday night, the district wasn’t able to provide a list of the schools that will not opt to find room for recess.
The Syracuse Central School District Board of Education will meet on September 12, at 5:30 p.m.