Wauwatosa's will no longer hold morning or afternoon recesses for first- and second-grade students as of opening day Tuesday, according to school staff.
The reason given, according to those sources, was simply a lack of time in the day left for recess, between mandatory instructional hours and mandatory testing.
There already was no recess for kindergarten or for grades 3 and up.
Stephanie Jajtner, principal of Jefferson Elementary, confirmed Wednesday that mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks for those primary-grade students had been ended.
Students will continue to have a 20- or 25-minute recess either before or after lunch. Jajtner said that Jefferson provides for 20 minutes of recess, a five-minute transition, and 20 minutes for lunch during a 45-minute period.
Wauwatosa School Superintendent Phil Ertl said Thursday that he had no part in the decision or had any discussions about it and said that Jajtner had the latitude as a principal to do so on her own.
Jefferson teachers, parents said to be displeased
"I can only give you the facts I know," said Jeff Hansher, president of the Wauwatosa Education Association and a Jefferson fifth-grade teacher. "Teachers were not involved in the decision-making," Hansher said. "It was not discussed with them. And I know that some parents are unhappy, and some teachers are unhappy."
Hansher also said that the decision had come from the district adminstration offices, but Ertl repeated that was not the case. He said that Jajtner told him that she had announced it as her decision at a Jefferson staff meeting.
Principal Jajtner said that only some of the district's elementary schools were still holding mid-session recesses going into this year, with Jefferson being one of them.
"We had a 15-minute morning recess and an occasional afternoon one," Jajtner said. "Most of the buildings had already stopped having either."
Jajtner, in only her second year as a principal, said she did not know the exact number of schools that were and were not still having recess last year, or planning to this year.
Jajtner said the reason for the elimination of the recess periods required instructional hours and required testing time had consumed the schoolday.
What is best for the child?
Jajtner downplayed the change at Jefferson, saying that, especially in the winter, the quick out-and-in recess sessions were not that productive of play time.
"With snow pants going on and coming off, it really isn't much of a break," Jajtner said.
But one veteran teacher, who said she did not wish to be identified for fear of retaliation for publicly challenging an administration decision, said that any break is a good and needed one for 6- and 7-year-olds during a 3½-hour morning session.
"Where is the research that supports the notion that eliminating recess time is developmentally appropriate, or that it allows more productive learning?" the teacher asked.
"At a time when as many as one-third of our students in elementary schools have some kind of learning difference – and with the rise in ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorders) and behavioral/emotional issues – shouldn’t a 15-minute break in a 3½-hour learning block be considered crucial for productive learning?
"If adults require breaks in order to refocus, shouldn't we consider it even more important for 6- and 7-year-olds?"
The teacher also asserted that other faculty and those parents who were aware of the change were dismayed.
The teacher referenced more than a billion and a half online search hits for "the importance of play" and provided links to two YouTube videos on the subject.
"The question I would ask is, 'Is it best practice?' And I don't think so. It's not in the best interest of the child. It is detrimental to the child."
Recess time not required by state
According to Beverly J. Kniess of the Content and Learning Team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the state does not mandate any recess time in the school day.
Administrative rules do state that 1,050 hours of instruction must be provided for children in first through sixth grades, and stipulates that no more than 30 minutes of recess daily may be counted as instructional time.
Given that, schools could keep or add recess time but only by lengthening the school day.
A study published last year by two University of Illinois-Chicago researchers found that about 30 percent of schools offer less than 20 minutes of recess per day, and more than 40 states had no recess requirement.