For the Record: Schools will be able to opt out of “mandatory” recess, but criteria unclear

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard made waves when he stated during his new monthly WBEZ call-in show last week that recess would be in every Chicago elementary school by the 2012-13 school year. Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard made waves when he stated during his new monthly WBEZ call-in show last week that recess would be in every Chicago elementary school by the 2012-13 school year.

The statement followed the district’s May release of a guide to restoring recess to schools.

However, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that schools will be able to opt out of the district’s “mandatory” recess policy.  “It is mandated that recess return to the middle of the day, but there is an opt-out for schools,” Carroll wrote in an email.

Communications staff did not respond to questions about what the criteria would be for opting out. Instead, they referred questions to the district’s “Developing A School Recess Plan” guide, which does not say that recess will be mandatory in fall 2012. Nor does it list opt-out criteria for schools.

Tracy Occomy Crowder, a senior organizer with Community Organizing and Family Issues (a group that has long pushed for recess), says the district’s response is confusing.

“[Brizard] said some really strong words on Monday. With what he was talking about, it did not sound like there was an opt out,” Crowder says. “We’re hoping there is a mandate out there, and there is a way to make it happen for everyone.”

Currently, the Chicago Teachers Union contract requires that a committee at each school decide every year whether to continue the “closed campus” schedule (where teachers take their 45-minute lunch break at the end of the day, generally leaving students without recess) or put the lunch break back in the middle of the day (generally giving students time for recess).

The committees are composed of the principal, the union delegate, three parent Local School Council representatives and three teachers elected by their colleagues.

Putting recess in every school, then, would likely rest on a renegotiation of that contract. Teachers’ current contract expires June 30, 2012, just before the switch to mandatory recess is supposed to take place.