Jennifer Cohan was surprised to hear from her son Wednesday that seven minutes of recess were taken away from the entire fifth grade at Community Park Elementary School in Princeton because of an incident that took place at the beginning of the school day as one teacher’s students prepared to head from the gymnasium to class.
Fifth grade students had to stand outside and stay still for the seven minutes during recess because some students from one class were talking in line while waiting to go upstairs to class.
A teacher clocked the seven-minute time out at the start of recess, and students were informed that they were not allowed to talk or walk around, according to Cohan’s fifth grade son. Some students were moving around to keep warm, and some of the children were not properly dressed for standing outside, her son said said. One student only had a t-shirt on, so another student gave him his sweatshirt. According to Cohan’s son, the students were told if they spoke or moved, they clock would re-start.
According to data from Weather Underground, the temperature was in the mid to low 40s at noon on the day of the incident.
“My son was upset that this kind of punishment was used, and that some of his classmates were cold,” Cohan said. “I can’t imagine how teachers and administrators think this is okay.”
Troubled by the incident and other incidences of recess being taken away from individual students at various grade levels, Cohan emailed teachers, the principal, and the superintendent on Thursday. She wrote an email to other parents as well, and found she was not the only one questioning the practice. In spite of her attempts to talk to the school officials about the matter, as of Saturday morning she received no direct response to her email. Planet Princeton also reached out to the superintendent of schools and school board leaders Thursday about the issue, but never received a response.
More than a dozen states and hundreds of school districts across the country have adopted wellness policies banning the practice of taking away recess to discipline misbehaving students. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education both stress the crucial role of recess, and argue it should not be taken away for disciplinary or punitive reasons. Research also has shown that taking away recess or other physical activity as punishment does not make classroom behavior better. It could make things worse, because some students who misbehave are doing so because they are bored, restless, or have excessive energy. Taking away recess only compounds problems for such students.
The Princeton Public School does, in fact, have a wellness policy, passed in September, that says recess shall not be taken away as a disciplinary action unless the child from whom recess will be taken away poses a physical threat or danger to him/herself or others.
“The docking of recess time has been happening since the start of school, despite board policy. I know that at least one parent contacted the principal prior to the incident Wednesday to express their concerns, but nothing was done,” Cohan said. “I was glad when the board passed the policy in September, but by not actually enforcing it, it shows there is no follow through, and that the policy approval was just window dressing.”
Community Park Principal Dineen Gruchacz sent a general email to all parents of fifth graders on Friday night addressing the issue.
“I want you to know that I have met with / been in communication with the fifth grade teachers regarding the recent recess issue,” she wrote. “We have gone over the board policy surrounding recess and there is now a better understanding of and clarity around the policy and our practice. I do not expect that we will have this situation repeat itself in the future.”