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Should Withholding Recess Be A Punishment For Bad Behavior?

Apr 30, 2019 06:25AM ● By Lisa Redmond

Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone

DRACUT – If you ask any elementary school student to name the best part of their day, recess will likely be one of the top answers. Students look forward to recess to blow off steam after several grueling hours of math, social studies and English.

But because recess is something children treasure it can also be withheld as punishment for bad behavior. But as one Dracut parent told the School Committee, the American Academy of Pediatrics disagrees that recess should be used as punishment.

At an April 8, School Committee meeting, Dracut parent Angel Bacgialupo raised the issue of using recess as punishment after there were parent posts on social media about the issue. It is unclear of the social media posts were targeting a specific instance or the issue in general.

Bacgialupo quoted an article in the American Academy of Pediatrics which states the AAP “believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.’’

The same article goes on to state: “Recess is at the heart of a vigorous debate over the role of schools in promoting the optimal development of the whole child. A growing trend toward reallocating time in school to accentuate the more academic subjects has put this important facet of a child’s school day at risk. Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-being.’’

Bacgialupo asked the School Committee to review whether withholding recess for five minutes, 10 minutes or for the entire block is a practice that is controlled by school principals or if it should be a policy decided by the school committee?

At Monday’s committee meeting, Committee member Allison Volpe addressed the issue saying she believed the real issue is discipline and how it is handled. School-based discipline is a practice that the school principal and staff oversee, not a policy for the school committee, she said.

“Behavior is a big problem in our elementary schools,’’ Volpe said. “The traditional approach is to take away recess.’’ And while “we need consequences for inappropriate behavior,’’ she said maybe there should be more of a focus on conflict resolution and other options.

Committee member Sabrina Heisey said that as a parent of three children with ADHD, she knows her children can be “difficult’’ in class and they have lost recess, which can make them look like “bad kids.’’

“If you continually take away what kids enjoy, you reinforce their negative image and a negative self- worth,’’ she said.

But School Superintendent Steven Stone said, “In the seven years I’ve been superintendent, I’ve never received a call about recess.’’ When recess is used as punishment it is typically means a child will miss one minute or two minutes of recess and “not pulling it completely.’’

Stone stressed the schools promote a positive classroom environment. There is professional development planned for teachers to focus on the social and emotional issues of students and to reinforce positive behavior which using conflict resolution of inappropriate behavior.

“We need to rely on the principals to engage with teachers,’’ Stone said.

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