Munoz: Mandatory recess, long overdue for elementary school students

DELRAY BEACH — In this May 2010 photo, Megan Meehan, 9, a third-grader, on the bicycle during recess at Morikami Park Elementary School. (Gary Coronado/ The Palm Beach Post)

By Valeria Munoz

Palm Beach Post Intern

Kids are learning to connect with technology these days, but they are disconnecting from each other. Thus, Florida’s new law mandating 20 minutes of recess for students K-5 is long overdue.

Although the sweeping education law, based on House Bill 7069, has been criticized by many educators including Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa as it cuts public schools’ construction money in order to share with charter schools, one of its few silver linings is required recess.

Communication, understanding, and coexistence cannot be taught from an app. When I was in elementary school, negotiating who got to have the good jump rope or basketball, having monkey bar races, and playing endless rounds of tag, left us exhausted but content. We learned the importance of patience as we anticipated recess anxiously. And we worked together to remind the teacher if the lesson went into playground time.

With more public schools incorporating different levels of learning (gifted, advanced, and regular) the difficulty in course load is growing. While the boost in learning is appreciated, some of the pressure needs to be alleviated from students’ shoulders. Allowing children to put down their pencils and workbooks for a set amount of time will help them return to their studies more refreshed, relaxed, and alert.

Of course, with freedom comes responsibility; teachers will have to keep an attentive eye for any bullying lest anyone try to be the “king/queen of the swings.”

Limestone Creek elementary school students in Ms. Wimer’s fourth grade class play during recess on the school’s playground, Wednesday, February 24, 2016. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should spend at least 60 minutes exercising each day.  Not only does it provide them with physical benefits, but recess allows students to interact with their peers and make their own decisions in regard to friendships, a skill they will definitely need by the time they get to high school.

When we reached fifth grade, some kids decided to think they were “too cool” for recess and would sit on the side. But once they hit middle school, it was a different story. And in high school? Those same students were asking for the return of recess.

In short, enjoy recess while you still have it, because one day you may find yourself in an Advanced Placement (AP) block classroom wishing the break lasted longer than five minutes.

Valeria Munoz, a recent graduate of Boca Raton High School, is starting college as a journalism major. She is now an intern at the Palm Beach Post

Christie: Should Lisa Rivera, accused of stealing school funds, resign?

Greenacres Councilwoman Lisa Rivera has been mum since being arrested Monday on grand theft charges.

Any way you slice it, this situation ugly.

Ugly for the Palm Beach County School District. Ugly for school students and parents. But most of all, ugly for the residents and taxpayers of Greenacres.

The arrest of District I Councilwoman Lisa Rivera on grand theft charges on Monday has the sprawling suburb in a tizzy.

After calling Monday a “terrible day,” Councilwoman Paula Bousquet said: “I’ve had some concerns about some of the decisions (Rivera) made and why they were made… It was just a sad day.”

“The impact is the exposure to the city,” City Manager Andrea McCue said. “But there was no involvement by the city. We just want to make sure we continue with business as usual.”

It’s a little hard to believe that’s really possible given that we’ve yet to hear from Rivera since she was arrested on charges of stealing more than $23,000 between 2013 and 2015 while she was treasurer at Boca Raton High School.

Her arrest on the charges, which also included official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud — all felonies —  was the second in a week of a county schools treasurer. That alone helped draw attention to the incident.

But Rivera is also a twice-elected public official who last ran unopposed. As the first elected Latina, she also ran as a change agent against the city’s “old political guard,” led by former Mayor Sam Ferreri.

No surprise then that Ferreri was not especially kind in his comments about Rivera’s arrest. He called his old nemesis’ high-profile arrest a “sad day” for Greenacres. “It’s a disgrace to the people she represents,” Ferreri said. “It’s an embarrassment to the city.”

That was before Gov. Rick Scott late Wednesday suspended Rivera in lieu of the charges against her.

The Greenacres City Council, seen here honoring City Clerk Joanna Cunningham (center) in May, is having to move forward without Rivera.

RELATED: Governor suspends Greeancres Councilwoman Lisa Rivera

That left the city council with either having to find a temporary replacement. But they are in familiar territory.

The city appointed Anderson Thelusme to fill out the remaining year of former Councilman Jonathan Pearce’s District IV seat when Pearce ran for mayor earlier this year.

Officials said the city will now advertise Rivera’s seat, and begin accepting resumes and letters of interest ahead of the July 17 council meeting where they will conduct interviews.

But this also raises the inevitable question — among others — of whether Rivera should resign her seat while fighting these charges.

Rivera hugs Marcus Stukes’ Aunt Takesha Harrell in April on the site where Marcus and his friend Matthew Makarits were shot to death in Bowman Park in Greenacres. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Curiously, she has yet to make a statement to the media or to her constituents, if for no other reason than to put the latter’s minds at ease.

Other than her denial of the allegations against her last October, Rivera and her husband — a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy — have been mum about the charges or her plans.

But, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum. Not making a statement only invites insinuations and rumors when the residents of Greenacres deserve facts and ultimately truth.

That first has to come from Rivera. If there was ever a time for that brash, no-nonsense style to take center stage it is now.

The people who voted for her, and supported her are waiting.

What do you think Rivera’s next move should be?

Goodman: New state law will put Florida science teaching under attack

Earth Science and Physics teacher Erich Landstrom, leading a discussion after watching a video of a meteor crashing in Russia during a freshman Earth Science class at Seminole Ridge High School in 2013 . (Bill Ingram/The Palm Beach Post)

Opening the floodgates for ideological fights over classroom content, a new Florida law is about to give climate change-deniers and evolution skeptics a fresh round of weapons to heave against science in the state’s classrooms.

In fact, it will help all kinds of people with axes to grind about what’s taught in the public schools.

Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 989, into law on Monday. It goes into effect July 1. An overhaul of the state’s policy on instructional materials, it allows any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used in the public schools.

According to PBS’ Frontline, Florida is “the first state to pass something like its classroom materials bill.”

A group called the Florida Citizens Alliance pushed for the measure. “We were getting a lot of complaints about religious indoctrination, political indoctrination, revisionist history and even pornography in the textbooks,” says its managing director, Keith Flaugh.

Among those complaints: books that teach that “global warming is a reality” and that “humans are just another animal.” Economics and history texts that criticize Ronald Reagan’s economic policies and fail to credit the former president for the breakup of the Soviet Union. Explicit sex in novels, including Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye.”

“Purchased at taxpayer expense, these materials teach our children that European Socialism is better than free markets and that the government is the answer to every problem,” the group’s website says. “They make use of sexually explicit material which tears down family values.”

The new law doesn’t mention climate change, evolution or any other topic, but it requires school districts to set up a formal process to field complaints from any resident about the content of educational materials, including anything in the school library or on a reading list.

The complaints must be heard by an “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” who’s not “an employee or agent of the school district.”

To help residents keep their eye out for material to object to, each district must post on its website “a current list of instructional materials, by grade level, purchased by the district.”

Who will sign up to be a hearing officer? Flaugh says members of his group would be happy to volunteer.

What this means is that every whackadoodle with an ideological ax to grind will get the chance — at taxpayer expense — to attack the school curriculum, and educators will have to defend modern scholarship.

Or as science teacher Brandon Haught has put it, hearing officers will have to consider nonsense complaints, “in essence giving protesters on a crusade nearly equal weight in the instructional-materials selection process as education and subject matter experts.”

Haught, who teaches in Volusia County, has written “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Education in the Classroom,” which he summarizes as “a book about the many times our state became a national embarrassment when the teaching of evolution was challenged.”

This looks like another embarrassment in the making.

But wait. It gets worse. Another new law, signed by Scott on June 9, protects students and educators who wish to express their religious beliefs in school from discrimination.

According to Frontline:

Flaugh said his group will use [the religious discrimination law] in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate “bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,” and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life.

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” he said.

So this isn’t just about removing so-called objectionable material from impressionable young minds. It’s about advancing a particular set of religious ideas.

That doesn’t belong in science class.

Congratulations, Florida. You’ve just opened a can of worms that’s bound to make public education more contentious. And, in all likelihood, dumber.

Goodman: Discipline lax in PBC school bus child-safety alarm scandal

A school bus leaves the Central Bus Compound. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

A memorandum?

That’s the only consequence for a Palm Beach County Public Schools driver who tampers with a child-safety alarm on a school bus?

Absurd. Yet that’s how Donald Fennoy, the school district’s chief operating officer, explained how the district plans to prevent future efforts to disable the alarms.

“Bus drivers and attendants found to be disarming the child alert and/or camera systems will be issued a memorandum,” Fennoy wrote to the school board’s inspector general.

The district needs to take this far more seriously. These alarms are meant to ensure that students aren’t left behind on an emptying bus. The device sounds if a driver fails to walk to the back of the bus and deactivates it.

In October 2015, a bus driver and aide left an autistic 7-year-old alone on an empty bus for more than three hours. A mechanic eventually discovered the boy at a bus compound. The bus wasn’t equipped with an alarm; in such cases, the driver and aide were supposed to do a visual check and hang an “EMPTY” sign on the rear window. The two were later arrested on charges of child neglect.

Pretty important devices, right? Yet an inspection of 89 buses last May found that the child-safety alarms weren’t working on 58 of them, Post reporter Andrew Marra reported. On 31 of the 89 buses, auditors found that the alarms had been manually disconnected.

Worse, most of the drivers and transportation officials in charge of inspecting the alarms claimed in reports that the devices were in working condition, the inspector general found.

A recently released audit report didn’t say who disconnected the devices or whether officials intentionally falsified inspection reports to hide the fact they weren’t working.

Bus drivers are obvious suspects, but a spokeswoman for the bus drivers’ union said that drivers wouldn’t know enough about the buses’ electrical systems to tinker with the alarms, and noted that many bus drivers had come forward to report alarms that weren’t working. Afifa Khaliq, the spokeswoman, pointed the finger at mechanics: “It might be a situation where the mechanic disabled it because it just kept ringing.”

The district says that the only bus that now has a malfunctioning alarm is off the road. And it says it’s taken steps to ensure that alarms aren’t tampered with, by encasing parts of the alarms in “an internal compartment so that the connectors are no longer exposed.

The district says it’s making it harder to falsify inspection reports by requiring a foreperson “to physically inspect the bus to check the safety alarms and video systems before signing off the inspection forms.”

Anyone violating these rules, presumably, will face the dreaded memorandum.

Christie: HS graduations, evening rush hour a bad traffic mix on on Southern

Southern, on a good day, can slow to a crawl at the slightest hint of a fender bender during evening rush hour. Imagine throwing in several thousand more cars — all trying to get to the same place at the same time — and, well, you get the picture. (Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

These weeks of the school year, thousands of parents and loved ones of Palm Beach County high school graduates are swelling with pride.

Unfortunately, however, that also means that Southern Boulevard (and to a lesser extent, Belvedere Road) from Florida’s Turnpike to State Road 7 is swelling — with traffic.

And I can tell from the amount of near-misses and drivers leaning on their horns, that I’m not the only commuter who’s noticed.

Jasmine Morales hugs a classmate before the start of the Boynton Beach High School graduation on Saturday at the South Florida Fairgrounds. (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post)

Since May 10, graduations for 30-plus high schools and other programs have churned through the ample South Florida Fairgrounds. (The final four graduations are scheduled for Thursday.) The result: westbound traffic in 2-3 of the four lanes on the above-mentioned stretch, from 4-7 p.m., are nothing short of traffic nightmare during rush hour.

Southern, on a good day, can slow to a crawl at the slightest hint of a fender bender during that time. Imagine throwing in several thousand more cars — all trying to get to the same place at the same time — and, well, you get the picture.

And before I forget, these aren’t all “more experienced, careful” adult drivers. Many are said high school grads — some driving their first car — who are not so used to handling the frustration of navigating such heavy traffic and the subsequent “road rage” that accompanies it.

Speaking of which, drivers need to keep these emotions in check. We don’t want anyone hurt, especially at such a celebratory time.

But I passed by at least one major accident last week that, I’m sure, caused more than a few graduation attendees to be late.

Palm Beach Gardens Spanish teacher Francia Lamus takes a selfie with student Romario Gardner before the start of the school’s graduation on Thursday. (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post)

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that this is one of those temporary but unfortunate necessities in life. I gladly participated in two at the Fairgrounds myself. It is a great venue for these events.

But in the future — maybe even today — it would be nice if our Palm Beach County Schools and government officials offer some alternate routes to us western commuters, so that we all aren’t crashing the grad festivities.

For example, would it be better to take Forest Hill Boulevard into Wellington?

Would it be better to take Okeechobee Boulevard into Royal Palm Beach and the Acreage, or to SR 7 for Loxahatchee Groves, Wellington or heaven help you, the Glades?

And can the Town of Haverhill handle Belvedere as an alternate traffic route?

Congratulations to all of the high school grads; but Thursday can’t get here fast enough.

Goodman: Ah, free time! School recess should be mandatory in Florida schools, not just folded into P.E.

Limestone Creek elementary school students play during recess on the school’s playground, February 24, 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

We’re glad to see that in the Florida Senate, at least one issue has bipartisan support: school recess.

Striking a blow for a saner school day, the Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill requiring 20 minutes of free-play recess in all Florida public elementary schools, kindergarten through fifth grade.

It’s about time. At present, only 11 of Florida’s 67 school districts have school-board approved recess policies, according to a Senate analysis. In Palm Beach County, the public schools’ Wellness Promotion guidelines “encourage” recess, but it’s not required.

Frankly, I couldn’t get through a work day without taking some time to loosen up after sitting at a desk for hours. I can’t imagine how children are expected to concentrate for so long without a break, let alone perform well for the standardized testing that’s deemed so all-important.

And I can’t imagine what elementary school would have been like without our morning and afternoon outdoor games of catch, or tag, or just hanging out.

As Post Editorial Page Editor Rick Christie wrote last year:

Here are some of the life lessons learned on the playground: rules of competition, diplomacy, negotiation, social networking, and here’s a biggie, just learning to decompress.

That last one is really a lost art these days.

Confirming common sense, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that well-supervised recess is needed for a child’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. And both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Society of Health and Physical Educators of America recommend all elementary school children get a minimum of one daily recess period of at least 20 minutes — in addition to physical education and classroom activity — according to the Senate analysis.

But this bill is by no means assured of passage. The Florida House doesn’t want mandatory recess. Instead, it passed a watered-down bill to combine recess and physical education classes as part of the state’s 150-minute per week requirement for P.E. That would mean less recess time for more than 400,000 fourth- and fifth-graders, according to proposal’s critics.

Last year, a bill similar to the Senate plan failed when a single senator kept it from being heard in committee because he didn’t want the state to place another mandate on school districts. Ridiculous. If the Legislature were to require schools to provide students with fresh air, would you oppose that because it’s a “mandate”?

Instead of an oppressive mandate from Tallahassee, the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, should be seen as a corrective to waves of previous state measures that turned Florida school kids into stressed-out test-taking machines.

Flores disagrees with the House proposal. “Recess should not be in competition with other things,” she told Sunshine State News. “It should be able to stand on its own. It should be able to give students and teachers… a mental break at some point in the day.”

We agree.

How about you? …

Christie: Post reader raises voucher issue in opposing DeVos as education secretary

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Senate poised today to confirm Devos by the narrowest possible margin, with Vice President Mike Pence expected to break a 50-50 tie, despite a last-ditch effort by Democrats to sink the nomination. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

UPDATE: Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence voted to break a 50-50 tie.

As a divided U.S. Senate moves closer today to voting on the confirmation of billionaire Betsy DeVos as U.S. Education Secretary, the country appears just as divided over whether she should be the next person to guide policy for our public schools.

There is of course, the division over DeVos’ unfettered support for “school choice” in the form of taxpayer money going to charter schools and private school vouchers.

But there is also the question whether she is qualified to make decisions about our traditional public school system. The concerns largely arose from her testimony before the Senate committee wherein she apparently gave less-than-stellar answers to questions about public schools — which she admitted that she has have very little experience with.

A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)
A demonstrator holds signs during a gathering with Democratic Senators and education advocates calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Today’s controversial vote motivated West Palm Beach attorney Kimberley Spire-Oh to write a Point of View op-ed opposing DeVos — but for an unexpected reason.

Spire-Oh echoed the concerns of a growing number of parents who favor school choice, but oppose DeVos based on her lack of concern around vouchers — especially those used for disabled students like Sprie-Oh’s own son.

“I am not opposed to school choice. My son is a beneficiary of choice programs, having attended an arts magnet school that provided him with support and motivation by allowing him to pursue one of his passions. There are excellent private schools in the McKay program (and charter schools) that work collaboratively with families and meet a need in the community. On the flipside of this success, I have seen that the voucher programs being held as shining examples often do not serve the needs of many of the most difficult-to-educate students, the ones these programs are touted to help.

We need a Secretary of Education who understands these considerations and is willing to do the hard work required to make high-quality school choice options available to truly all students, not just those that are easy to educate.”

Do you believe that DeVos is qualified to be the next Education Secretary?

 

Commentary: Billionaire Bill Koch makes good on “exhaustive investigation” into Oxbridge

Bill Koch
Bill Koch

Give it to Bill Koch. The Palm Beach billionaire made good on his pledge to undertake “an exhaustive investigation” into allegations that his elite Oxbridge Academy was, behind the scenes, an oppressive place to work, rife with firings, high turnover, accusations of sexual harassment and a dispiriting swing from academics to athletics.

On Friday, Koch announced that CEO Robert Parsons had been asked to step down and that athletics director Craig Sponsky  and football coach Doug Socha will be gone by fall.

Parsons and Sponsky have been on paid leave since April, amid an investigation by Post reporter Tony Doris. At the same time, Koch ordered an investigation by a team that included an ex-FBI agent, a forensic accountant and the school’s employment law firm.

The move had to be painful for Koch, who personally selected Parsons to open the West Palm Beach school, which he founded in 2011. As Doris wrote:

Koch hand-picked Parsons to open the school, luring him with a compensation package that totaled $1,138,156 in 2012, including residence in a Wellington house rented for him by Oxbridge Academy Foundation, Inc. The most recent federal filings by the nonprofit school listed Parsons’ compensation as $694,540 during the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Nationally, the median base salary for a head of a school that belongs to the National Association of Independent Schools was $230,000 in 2015-16.

The school’s bookstore manager, Ulle Boshko, had also been placed on paid leave when Parsons and Sponsky were. She had alleged that she had been demoted from comptroller to bookshop manager because she had refused Parson’s advances. Koch had said Boshko was placed on leave “because she’s the source of a lot of these allegations.” There was no immediate word Friday on whether she would be reinstated.

Koch, whose father Fred C. Koch founded Koch Industries, a business empire based on oil refineries, estimates he has invested $75 million to $100 million to make Oxbridge — its name a mashup of the famed British universities Oxford and Cambridge — into one of the nation’s best schools. Tuition is $31,000 per school year, though many students receive financial aid as part of Koch’s desire to foster a diverse student body.

Sometimes called the “other Koch brother,” he has a history of feuds with his siblings David and Charles Koch, who have become famous as politically active bankrollers of conservative causes. Bill Koch’s own politics appear more mixed: he has given money to Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bill Nelson as well as the Republican Party of Florida and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Letter: Dog walker shouldn’t out-earn teacher

 

08/24/02 -- At the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League on Military Trail in West Palm Beach, dog training volunteer Bonnie Peacock (cq) of Jupiter works with a male dalmation named Jake. The ARL has 75 dog-training volunteers who have given 3500 hours of training time to 1400 dogs. (The ARL has a total of about 400 volunteers, including cat socializers and dog walkers.) "It is very satisfying when you work with a dog and then you see him go home with a family," says Nielsen.  "It is good to know your small amount of work with the dog made a difference." BRUCE R. BENNETT/Staff Photographer
BRUCE R. BENNETT/Staff Photographer

In reference to the article that substitute teachers are paid $13.50 per hour (“Substitutes in county earn less than bus drivers,” April 25), I did some research and found that my friend’s daughter is paid $15 for walking one dog.

Priorities, people; priorities.

ELLIOT SLOTNICK, BOYNTON BEACH

Letter: Barbieri doesn’t get it when it comes to the Jupiter powder-puff game

 

Powderpuff (1)If you had any level of dissatisfaction with the School District of Palm Beach County, it may have increased if you read the inane comments of Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri regarding the powder-puff football game at Jupiter High School.

As a former principal, assistant superintendent of schools and college professor, I stand behind Principal Dan Frank, who revealed his common sense and leadership by discontinuing the tradition of the game for safety reasons. A school’s first mission is always the safety and welfare of the students.

Barbieri doesn’t get it, and demonstrated this when he was quoted by The Post’s Sonja Isger: “I don’t understand the rationale that girls can apply for the boys football team, but they can’t have their own game after 50 years of doing this. If the parents want it, the girls want it, it’s safe. I don’t understand why they’re changing a procedure that’s been in place 50 years.”

I’ll tell you why: It was unsafe to begin with.

JAMES L. CASALE, PALM BEACH GARDENS