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Decatur School Board reviews recess policy, will not withhold recess as punishment

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Decatur School Board reviews recess policy, will not withhold recess as punishment

The City Schools of Decatur School Board listens to online public comment during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. The meeting was held both in person and virtually through Zoom. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur School Board, at its Aug. 9 meeting, reviewed a proposed recess policy for students as part of an ongoing effort to review the board policies and rewrite them.

The draft was written by the Georgia School Boards Association and reflects a new state law that makes recess mandatory for elementary students, but provides some exceptions, according to the Associated Press. The Decatur School Board gave the superintendent suggestions on edits to make to the draft policy, including striking a sentence that would allow recess to be taken away from students as punishment.

“They are trying to keep us as close to policy written by the state legislature as possible, which I fully agree with, but I think we need to make sure that, particular with unstructured break time, that we keep it within what we believe in City Schools of Decatur,” Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said. “We do want to protect that time for our students and not let it be taken away.”

The idea generated some concern among parents ahead of the board meeting.

The draft policy stated, “Each elementary school shall schedule recess for all students in kindergarten and grades one through five every school.”

The draft policy also says, “Breaks may be withheld from students for disciplinary or academic reasons if prior notice of such is provided to the students.” It’s unclear from the policy draft whether this would apply to all students or just grades 6 through 8.

School Board member James Herndon said that when the board is considering a recommendation from GSBA or from the state that is not as favorable to the district, a clarification should be included with the draft policy.

“I understand why GSBA wants us to discuss this. There’s a recent law passed by the governor and the state legislature,” Herndon said. “For many systems, this is an improvement on unstructured break time. For Decatur, it’s a step backwards.”

School Board Chair Jana Johnson-Davis added that she was sorry that the public wasn’t informed about why the school board was discussing this policy.

“To think that break time could be taken away from a student as academic or disciplinary action is not the Decatur way, and it’s in conflict with [Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports],” Johnson-Davis said.

Fehrman recommended changing this statement, “Breaks may be withheld from students for disciplinary or academic reasons if prior notice of such is provided to the students,” to state that staff should refer to the district’s procedures if considering removing unstructured break time for students and attach CSD’s current administrative regulation.

The new policy will have the same parameters that the current policy has around unstructured break time.

The current policy states that principals will provide a minimum of 20 minutes per day of unstructured break time for students in grades kindergarten through fifth, Herndon said.

Fehrman added that it’s also general practice for staff to give sixth graders unstructured break time as well.

In other business:

– The school board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Decatur and the Decatur Public Facilities Authority to develop a track and field at Legacy Park. The Decatur City Commission approved the agreement at its Aug. 1 meeting. The PFA will consider approving the agreement on Aug. 15.

According to the Legacy Park Master Plan, a competition level track and field was one of the most requested facilities during the master planning process. The concept in the master plan has the track and field located to the east of the historic core and near the next to the conservation easement of the park.

“Furthermore, the demand for outdoor, recreation space was heightened during the pandemic, and demand for such facilities within the city remains high,” City Manager Andrea Arnold wrote in a memo. “There currently are not enough athletic fields to meet the demands for recreational and competitive activities, and there is no running track available in the city for community or school use. The city and school system recognize this unique opportunity to partner to bring this desired facility to the community.”

The city will commit up to $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, and the school board will contribute up to $3 million in ESPLOST funds.

– School Board Chair Johnson-Davis also read a statement from the board about the procedure for complaints that divisive concepts are being taught in the district. The board recently adopted the policy as required by a new state law.

“CSD continues to be committed to its racial equity initiatives and will continue to teach about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Johnson-Davis said. “CSD was required to adopt this policy and create new procedures by a new state law that went into effect on July 1, 2022. The new divisive concepts law prohibits all public schools from teaching or providing training on nine specific divisive concepts about race.”

The law also required school districts to adopt a procedure for addressing complaints alleging that schools have violated the law.

“As a charter school system, CSD is entitled to waive certain state education requirement, but the new divisive concepts law specifically prohibits charter systems from waiving fees requirements,” Johnson-Davis said.

“At City Schools Decatur, our vision is to build a foundation for all children to be their best, achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. In CSD, we believe that this is achieved through our commitment to and our unwavering support of CSD equity work. We embrace the critical examination of current and historical events in a way that honors and gives a voice to those who have been silenced and/or marginalized. CSD has always been a district that supported our teaching staff as high-quality professionals, and we will continue to do this, even more so now,” she added.

On the last day of the legislative session in April, state legislators also added a provision to House Bill 1084 that created an executive oversight committee that could prohibit transgender girl students from participating in girl’s sports. In accordance with those regulations, CSD was also required to change its policy regarding transgender athletes.

“The Georgia High School Association which governs Georgia High School athletics has now changed its rules in response to a new state law to state that a student’s gender is determined by the gender noted on the student’s birth certificate,” Johnson-Davis said. “CSD remained committed to addressing the needs of students who are transgender or gender diverse.”

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