Berkeley Unified School District board members talk possibly revising recess restriction policy

Alice Langford/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education discussed Wednesday the possibility of revising a districtwide elementary recess restriction policy, as well as an agenda item proposing a more community-oriented process for naming or renaming school sites and facilities.

The board first passed a recess restriction policy in November 2014 that allows certain staff members to restrict a student’s recess time as behavioral discipline. Common reasons for recess restriction range from noncompliance to class disruption.

During the 2014-15 academic year, more than 700 behavioral incidents, occurring mainly in classrooms and on playgrounds, led to recess restrictions, according to a report tracking restriction records from city elementary schools. Second- and third-grade students received significantly more recess restrictions than students in other grade levels.

Out of the elementary school demographic, 19 percent of students are black, yet nearly 33 percent of recess restrictions were given to black students. Similarly, 11 percent of the elementary demographic are special-needs students, and 26 percent of total recess restrictions were given to those students.

“As you know, when this policy was authorized, there were a lot of parents opposed to the policy,” said Sinead O’Sullivan, a Berkeley parent, during public comment. “I am saddened now that the data is out to see that it is used disproportionately against students of color and students of special needs.”

Judy Appel, board member and clerk, said she was concerned about the recess restriction policy after viewing the data. Appel said at the meeting that the recess restriction was intended to be an “educational opportunity for teachers to work with kids at lunchtime or during recess” but that she saw it being used as a “strictly disciplinary measure” after having seen the data presented.

Several elementary schools have yet to record recess restriction data. O’Sullivan, a parent of a student who attends LeConte Elementary School, said she is concerned about possible violations of the policy because some schools, such as LeConte and John Muir Elementary, have yet to report data.

“I have repeatedly asked for the data (from LeConte), and nobody would give it to me,” O’Sullivan said at the meeting.

The board’s policy subcommittee is reviewing the policy in response to the compiled data report and community concerns, said board member Karen Hemphill at the meeting. The subcommittee seeks to include parent notification, length of recess restriction and frequency as possible revisions to the policy, Hemphill said. In addition, Appel suggested gathering feedback from school administrators and teachers to see how the policy is working in their respective school.

“I totally understand the importance of (disciplinary measures), but we do need to know that there are alternatives,” Appel said at the meeting. “We need to have that be a last resort.”

Subsequently, the board discussed a policy that aims to establish streamlined processes for district members, including parents and school staff, to petition a name change of a school or school facility, according to board member Josh Daniels.

The review process would examine the individual after whom the building is named in “light of the Berkeley community’s contemporary view on history and morality,” the item said.

“I think it’s an important point that the community’s views are critical,” Daniels said at the meeting. “The names are often meaningful to the community and (alumni of) the school.”

The board, however, holds final jurisdiction over any naming or renaming process and will return to the item at a later meeting.


Jason Tran covers schools and communities. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JasonTran_