Berkeley school board members approve recess restriction

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Michelle Kim/File

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At a meeting Wednesday evening, board members of Berkeley Unified School District unanimously approved a controversial recess restriction policy, with planned discussions for further amendments to its language.

The policy states that certain staff can restrict a student’s recess time as a way to bring about improved behavior. The meeting started with public comments from the school district’s teachers and parents, who voiced concerns about the use of recess restriction as a punishment, which they said would impede students’ academic development.

“Sitting on the bench doesn’t teach kids anything,” said Rick Kleine, a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, at the board meeting. “How to learn responsibility is different than restriction. We don’t just leave them alone and have them figure it out.”

The policy does not allow withholding recess time for students who do not complete their homework and can only be implemented after they receive a “fair and clear verbal warning.”

At the meeting, members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, which includes teachers, counselors and others who serve Berkeley public school students, urged the board to amend the policy’s language and what they called its punitive undertones. The handful of parents who spoke at the meeting echoed similar concerns regarding the policy’s language, with one parent advocating scrapping the policy altogether.

All members of the public who commented at the start of the open session agreed that recess is a crucial component to students’ academic performance. They favored extending recess time over limiting it, referencing developmental impediments varying from social to academic that could result from recess restriction.

According to Renee Wachtel, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician who spoke at the meeting, recess is a necessary part of a child’s education, as it provides cognitive, emotional and social skill development. Withholding recess would be counterproductive to learning positive behavior, she said, adding that recess restriction should be a “one-time event for safety reasons.”

After public comments, board members reviewed the policy, motioning multiple times to amend certain portions of the policy’s language.

As it currently stands, the policy requires the annual review of data disaggregated by the ethnicity of students who are restricted recess. Board members discussed the possibility of amending the policy’s language to include more inclusive terms, such as “relevant demographic data” instead of “ethnicity.”

The board further deliberated over the use of language used in five out of the 10 proposed conditions for reasons of clarity regarding the expectations of recess restriction, what reports go to the teacher or principal and how the policy would be implemented across the school district, which includes 11 elementary and three middle schools.

Despite concerns over language, the board approved the policy after more than two hours of discussion, stipulating that language amendments will be addressed as needed.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.

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