Great News from Illinois – Recess Bill Passed



June 3, 2021

Illinois Families for Public Schools’ Advocacy Succeeds with

One of Strongest Bills in U.S.


SPRINGFIELD, Illinois – Illinois students in grades K-5 may have 30 protected minutes of recess starting this fall thanks to the hard work of Sen. Robert J. Peters, Rep. Aarón Ortíz and parent group, Illinois Families for Public Schools (IL-FPS).


After a tough battle in the IL General Assembly, the “Right to Play” bill, SB 654, sponsored by Peters and Ortiz, passed on June 1 and will now go to Governor Pritzker’s desk. This bill is one of the strongest and longest recess/play bills passed in the country. Most state recess laws require 20 minutes or split time across physical education or recess. Arkansas has required 40 minutes per day since 2019. Under the Illinois bill, the unstructured play time cannot be removed as punishment, and students with disabilities will be provided accommodations.


“In the wake of a global pandemic, children’s need for social interaction, physical activity and time off screens is more important than ever.  Play is learning for kids, and that’s an area of learning loss that we haven’t been hearing about. This bill let’s schools prioritize the benefits of play,” said Cassie Creswell, parent and director of IL-FPS, adding that the pandemic motivated parents to call their legislators to demand that play time be protected this year.


The “Right to Play” bill was supported by many state, local and national organizations, and its passage followed a 15-year push led by parent group POWER-PAC IL, staff supported by Communities Organizing for Family Issues (COFI), who had bills in the General Assembly multiple times since 2006, leading to a 2011 state task force that recommended students in grades K-8 have 30 minutes of daily recess.


“It’s so important that children have recess during the day to take a mental break and return refreshed and refocused to their classes. We have heard stories from parents across the state that recess has been taken away as a punishment for entire classes of children for minor things. We are very excited for this change that we have worked on for many years and have finally accomplished,” said Esmeralda Martinez, COFI/POWER-PAC leader and co-chair of its recess campaign.


Both of the bill’s sponsors had a personal connection to getting it passed. “When I was growing up, unstructured playtime was a key part of my development, which is why I believe it should be a guaranteed right for all kids,” Senator Robert Peters said. “Physical activity also helps keep children’s minds sharp, and the exercise they get helps keep them healthy.” Representative Aarón Ortíz didn’t have recess at all as a child. “This bill is personal to me. No child in Illinois should go through elementary school without recess, and we know the kids most likely to not have recess at all or have it withheld are children of color and those from low-income households. Guaranteeing a right to play is an education equity issue.”


The obsession with standardized testing and hyper-accountability in U.S. schools has led to a major reduction of recess time, and while a vast body of research points to the academic, social emotional and physical benefits of recess and free play, many corporate education reform groups and school management lobbying groups opposed the bill. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that recess and free play are a crucial part of the 60 minutes of physical activity that children need each day.


The “Right to Play” bill, SB 654 was endorsed by a coalition of organizations led by Illinois Families for Public Schools, including Access Living, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Chicago Teachers Union, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), Defending the Early Years, Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Optometric Association, Legal Council for Health Justice, National Association of Social Workers – IL Chapter, Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association, Northside Action for Justice, Parents 4 Teachers, POWER-PAC IL, Raise Your Hand for IL Public Education, Sierra Club – IL Chapter.