State lawmakers send school recess bill to Kemp for signature

Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, speaks in the House Chambers on March 1, 2021. He introduced House Bill 1283, which passed Monday in a 159-6 vote.(Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, speaks in the House Chambers on March 1, 2021. He introduced House Bill 1283, which passed Monday in a 159-6 vote.(Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The Georgia legislation received final approval Monday.

Lily NordbyWills was in fourth grade when she told lawmakers about the importance of recess.

Five years later, Lily is a freshman in high school, and too old to benefit from her testimony at the Capitol. Yet legislation that would require daily scheduling of recess in elementary and middle school is on its way to the governor’s desk for his signature into law.

On Monday, the final day of the 2021-2022 legislative session, the state House of Representatives gave final approval to House Bill 1283 in a 159-6 vote.

“It’s exciting,” Lily, now 15, said of this latest turn in a campaign for classroom breaks that has raged for at least half a decade. “It takes a rare kid to be unhappy about recess.”

The bill that Lily testified for in the winter of 2017 did not pass, though the House had adopted a resolution the prior year in favor of more recess.

Then the author, Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, tried again in 2018, and kept pushing the year after that. He succeeded when the General Assembly passed House Bill 83 by wide margins in 2019.

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Lily NordbyWills (facing camera) was in fourth grade when she testified at the Capitol in 2017 as part of an effort by her Girl Scout troop to guarantee more school recess. (Courtesy of Katherine Nordby)

Credit: contributed

Lily NordbyWills (facing camera) was in fourth grade when she testified at the Capitol in 2017 as part of an effort by her Girl Scout troop to guarantee more school recess. (Courtesy of Katherine Nordby)

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Lily NordbyWills (facing camera) was in fourth grade when she testified at the Capitol in 2017 as part of an effort by her Girl Scout troop to guarantee more school recess. (Courtesy of Katherine Nordby)

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

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But Douglas, a former Bulldogs football player who went pro and is concerned about obesity among children, ultimately lost that time. Gov. Brian Kemp vetoed the bill, saying the mandate would have been too burdensome for schools.

The game wasn’t over for Douglas, however.

In February, six years after getting a resolution passed and three years after the veto, he introduced HB 1283. He said on the House floor Monday that he worked with Kemp’s office in hopes of avoiding a veto this time.

Unlike the prior bill, this new one does not prevent teachers from withholding recess as punishment for bad behavior or for extra study time. It also doesn’t specify the duration of recess, which in the vetoed bill was an average of half an hour per day.

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Lily understands withholding recess for misbehaving kids. But she was disappointed by the fact that, should this become law, teachers could still cancel recess for, say, math drills.

That is why she went to the Capitol to testify all those years ago and, with her mom, helped her Girl Scout troop start a petition.

She said her elementary school teacher used to deny recess when kids failed to do enough multiplication and division problems in a 5-minute challenge.

“I don’t like math to this day,” Lily said.

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