BATON ROUGE — The House Education Committee voted 8-5 Wednesday to approve a “Bring Back Recess Bill” requiring that students in grades K through 8 have 30 minutes of unstructured playtime daily.
The bill, by Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, would allow school districts flexibility to decide how to allocate the minutes. Amedee said she would prefer to see schools give students 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.
Three other bills unanimously cleared the committee and also will head to the House floor. One, by Rep. Stephen Carter, R-Baton Rouge, provides hazing prevention education at higher education institutions.
The other two had already been approved by the Senate. One, by Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, would require each school to display the national motto “In God We Trust.”
The other, by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, would require the state Education Department to develop materials to disseminate to parents about the addictive nature of online pornography.
Bonnie Baker Richardson, the president of the Louisiana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, voiced support for Amedee’s bill.
“Aerobic activity is the only kind of activity that creates new brain cells,” Richardson, who has been a Baton Rouge physical education teacher for over 35 years, said.
Seven of the committee’s nine Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Walt Leger, New Orleans, voted for the recess bill. Four of the five Democrats on the committee and one Republican voted against it. Two Republicans abstained.
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, was the lone Republican to vote against the bill. She expressed concern that there were simply not enough minutes left in the instructional day for new requirements.
Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, also said it was hard to require more free time when the state already mandates standards for accountability and performance, especially in the 4th and 8th grades.
State law requires a minimum of a 360-minute school day for 177 instructional days. Middle school students often attend six 50-minute classes, which already makes 300 minutes.
Most schools also provide a 30-minute lunch break, and five minutes to transition between each of their six classes eats up another 30 minutes a day.
Erin Bendily, the policy and government affairs director for the Education Department, said schools are currently required to provide 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day. Schools often provide this activity through physical education classes, which is structured time with instructional standards.
As Bendily reads the bill, the new 30-minute unstructured recess would be in addition to the current requirements.
Debra Schum, executive director from the Louisiana Association of Principals, explained the conflict for administrators in scheduling classes. For schools already meeting the minimum 360-minute day, the Education Department would either have to include the minutes as instructional time or school districts would be forced to lengthen the instructional day.
Bendily said that the Department currently does not have the authority to promulgate additional rules about what counts as instructional time because it is written in statute.
Lengthening the school day would add a fiscal burden on school districts, which would need to pay personnel more.
Amedee said she would work on revisions to have the unstructured recess time count as instructional minutes.
Rep. Carter’s bill is essentially the educational component of the “Max Gruver Act,” introduced by Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette. Landry’s bill would elevate criminal penalties for hazing to a felony. It passed the House in early April and is now being heard in the Senate.
Carter’s bill matches the language of Landry’s bill, but adds specific requirements for higher education institutions.
They include a requirement to suspend or expel any student who commits hazing offenses as well as to provide hazing information to students at freshman orientation. Each fraternity, sorority, and campus club would have to provide at least one hour of anti-hazing training to its members each year.
Barrow’s bill to require each public school to display the national motto “In God We Trust” received a great deal of attention when it passed the Senate. It would require the schools to display the motto by the 2019-20 school year.
Barrow said schools could simply print out the motto and frame it somewhere.
In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court legally endorsed the references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and national motto because “their history, character, and context prevent them from being constitutional violations at all.”
Mizell said she brought her bill on the impacts of pornography after reviewing a study from the Louisiana Law Institute on drug-like effects to the brain when exposed to porn on a daily basis.
Mizell said the measure is especially important since nearly every child has daily access to the Internet through mobile devices.