In a letter sent to the president of the Berkeley Unified School District on November 3, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund urged the District to decline to codify a policy allowing for restricted recess as a disciplinary technique.
“The Board should not adopt such a policy because it would be antithetical to federal education rights and policies that recognize recess as an essential component of education, the District’s own Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) systems, and the overwhelming scientific evidence that such policies are harmful to childhood development,” the letter stated.
Although many districts allow for such punishment – indeed, California states allows allow school districts to adopt “reasonable rules and regulations” to restrict recess – Berkeley has never had such a policy.
The DREDF argues the policy would likely disproportionately impact students with disabilities, and thus could run into conflict with the federal education laws.
In particular, the DREDF pointed to the Department of Education’s regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires school districts to ensure that students with disabilities are able to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, including “recess periods,” to the “maximum extent appropriate” to their needs.
In addition, the DREDF argued that recess restrictions could affect the student’s mandated services and accommodations under Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s primary special education law. For students with ADHD in particular, the DREDF argued, recess is a key component of social and emotional learning.
“The District’s proposed recess restriction policy may be counterproductive in terms of encouraging positive replacement behaviors in students with ADHD,” the letter stated.
Finally, the DREDF pointed to guidance released earlier this year from the Department of Education calling for the use of “removal and exclusionary practices only as a last resort for identified serious infractions.” Although this guidance was made in the context of more severe restrictions, such as school suspensions and expulsions, the DREDF argued that it is applicable to recess restrictions as well.
“Recess restriction is not a component of a functioning school-wide positive behavior system, and may in fact exacerbate student behaviors,” the DREDF wrote. “Instead of codifying a recess restriction policy, the District should commit to improving implementation of its current…policies through greater teacher and school site administrator training in behavior management techniques to address the issues/behaviors that are causing them to use or want to use recess retention.”
The District has not yet decided on whether it will move forward with the proposed policy.