Kemp signs bill requiring daily recess for young Georgia students

Children play on a school playground in Atlanta. Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, has been calling for a recess mandate for five years. Gov. Brian Kemps signature on House Bill 1283 is a legislative victory for him and other supports of the measure. (File))

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Children play on a school playground in Atlanta. Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, has been calling for a recess mandate for five years. Gov. Brian Kemps signature on House Bill 1283 is a legislative victory for him and other supports of the measure. (File))

The new law doesn’t say how much recess time students should have

Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday signed into a law a requirement that Georgia’s elementary schools schedule daily recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The new law doesn’t say how much recess time students should have. Kemp vetoed a bill three years ago that urged schools to provide an average of 30 minutes of recess per day.

His signature on House Bill 1283 is a legislative victory for Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, who has been calling for a recess mandate for five years. The former Georgia Bulldogs football player is concerned about obesity among children.

It’s also a victory for children who backed him on prior measures, even if they’re now too old to benefit.

ExploreEducation was often Georgia lawmakers’ wedge issue this legislative session

Pierce Mower, 14, once wrote a letter to his Atlanta elementary school principal asking for recess more than three days a week: “Will you please let us have recess every day? If you don’t my head will explode,” his letter said.

Then, in third grade, he testified at a 2017 state House committee hearing for a recess bill Douglas sponsored. He returned to support Douglas’ attempt to get another bill passed in 2019.

“I was a little kid and recess was everything,” Pierce, who will be starting high school in the fall, said in a recent interview. “Now, as a teenager, you don’t really think about it as much.”

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The letter that started it all for Pierce Mower. He was in second grade when he wrote this letter six years ago on March 9, 2016 asking his principal at Parkside Elementary School to give students recess every day instead of three days a week. CONTRIBUTED Marie Mower, Pierce's mother.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

The letter that started it all for Pierce Mower. He was in second grade when he wrote this letter six years ago on March 9, 2016 asking his principal at Parkside Elementary School to give students recess every day instead of three days a week. CONTRIBUTED Marie Mower, Pierce's mother.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
The letter that started it all for Pierce Mower. He was in second grade when he wrote this letter six years ago on March 9, 2016 asking his principal at Parkside Elementary School to give students recess every day instead of three days a week. CONTRIBUTED Marie Mower, Pierce's mother.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Local school boards will now be required to file their recess policies through middle school with the Georgia Board of Education. The policies must say whether breaks can be withheld for disciplinary or academic reasons.

The new law also allows recess to be waived on days when students have physical education or other “structured activity time,” such as games led by a teacher. It also can be skipped for scheduling conflicts, bad weather, field trips or other unavoidable obstacles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that recess benefits children socially and emotionally and also helps them focus in the classroom. Proponents of Douglas’ recess bills say kids need time to play and relax.

Combined ShapeCaption
State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, recognized an old ally in Pierce Mower in 2019, when the then-fifth grader testified for Douglas' House Bill 83 mandating recess in elementary school. The bill passed but was vetoed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who just signed a newer version in House Bill 1283.

Credit: TY TAGAMI/AJC

State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, recognized an old ally in Pierce Mower in 2019, when the then-fifth grader testified for Douglas' House Bill 83 mandating recess in elementary school. The bill passed but was vetoed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who just signed a newer version in House Bill 1283.

Credit: TY TAGAMI/AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
State Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, recognized an old ally in Pierce Mower in 2019, when the then-fifth grader testified for Douglas' House Bill 83 mandating recess in elementary school. The bill passed but was vetoed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who just signed a newer version in House Bill 1283.

Credit: TY TAGAMI/AJC

Credit: TY TAGAMI/AJC

ExploreMore stories about education and legislation

Olga Jarrett, a retired Georgia State University education professor, was among those who testified at the Capitol with Pierce and other students in 2017. She said by email after HB 1283 passed that she still hopes for a half hour of mandatory recess per day, without an exception for punishment.

But she said she appreciates Douglas’s repeated attempts to get a law passed and “can understand that he figured some recess was better than none.”

Douglas said on the House floor on April 4, in the last hour or so of the legislative session, that he’d worked with Kemp to avoid a veto on this version of the recess legislation.

One school district observed that the legislation doesn’t appear to require much.

“This is more of a spirit of recess bill than an attack on local control and on the scheduling of your calendar,” Mike McGowan, chief of staff in the Cherokee County School District, told his school board last month.