05/24/2011 10:04 am ET | Updated Jul 24, 2011

Chicago Public Schools Recess: District Offers Guidelines For Bringing It Back

As has been said repeatedly in recent weeks and months, Chicago's public schools have the fewest instructional hours per school year of any major district in the nation. But the city's schools are also skimping on the time for physical activity: a majority of grammar schools in the district don't offer recess.

That may change soon, as the district issued guidelines to its schools this week that will encourage them to bring recess back into the school day.

Up until the 1970s, recess was pervasive in Chicago schools. Most schools operated on a so-called "open campus" model, with a 45-minute lunch period and two ten-minute student recesses. During that time, many students would go home for lunch.

Student safety became a concern, however, and many schools began switching to a "closed campus" system, converting the two recesses into a 20-minute student lunchtime, and moving the teachers' 45-minute lunch to after the school day. These days, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, only 42 percent of schools have any kind of recess, and 27 percent of them have it inside the classroom.

The Chicago Teachers Union contract requires all schools that have a closed campus to have an annual vote on moving back to the open model. Those votes simply haven't been held. And recess advocates say that if they were, the number of schools with recess would spike.

So CPS is asking all schools to do just that: form review committees and vote on recess at the end of this school year, WBEZ reports. And while the district recognizes that schools have the right to stay on the closed-campus model, it begins its report with a clear stand on the issue: “The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) encourages all elementary schools to incorporate recess into their school day."

Patricia O'Keefe of Raise Your Hand, a coalition that has fought to bring recess back, was elated by the decision. "We're thrilled that we're going to finally stop depriving children of physical activity and the social time they deserve to be more productive members of society," she told the Chicago Tribune.

The mandate comes as one of the last acts of Terry Mazany, interim schools chief who will be replaced by Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard. But Brizard has also said that increasing recess is “something we have to work on."