What These Moms Are Doing To Get Kids 20 Minutes of Recess

Over the past several months, I have been involved in grass roots efforts to ensure daily recess for all elementary school students in my state. Parents across Florida have been working at the local level to get recess for their children, unsuccessfully, so they united toward a common goal. We are known as "The Recess Moms." Though we do have plenty of dads on our team, too.

We set our sights on the state Capitol. Local school boards and superintendents refused to listen and respond appropriately, despite decades of research demonstrating the need for recess. So we Recess Moms took the fight to the legislature.

After joining the group, I sent emails and made phone calls. I recruited everyone I knew to do the same. I went on television. Twice. I worked social media and my personal networks. I had to stay behind when the Recess Moms went to Tallahassee, but did whatever I could from home to support the movement.

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Early on, we had a lot of support and also a few hurdles. Bills were drafted and introduced in the state House and Senate. Co-sponsors lined up to add their names.

But one man has stood in the way.

He used his power to silence the voices of Florida's more than 1 million public school children and their parents. He alone had the ability to stop the bill dead in its tracks, and he chose to exercise it. I have always been very cynical about politics and politicians, and this experience has only made that attitude worse. The things I have been exposed to and learned about the legislative process make my stomach turn.

Corruption. Greed. Power. Ego. Money.

Sounds like the making of a good TV series or movie. But in this case, it real life.

One of the first things the Recess Moms group was asked was if we had hired a lobbyist. When it comes to politics, money talks. Our group had no funding to support the efforts, but there was strong buy-in across the state from parents, educators and well-know organizations.

If you think our elected officials are looking out for the best interests of their constituents, think again.

The chairperson of the K-12 Education Committee in the Senate, John Legg, refused to place the bill on his agenda—despite strong bi-partisan backing in both the House and Senate, despite overwhelming support from Florida parents (read voters). Also, despite endorsements from key organizations.

Legg would not respond to the thousands of phone calls and emails that poured in from across the state. He wouldn't meet in person with the parents who drove hours to Tallahassee, more than once, and camped out in front of his Capitol office for an appointment. His aides were often rude and condescending to those who managed to get through to them.

We put together a campaign where a parent would call his office every five minutes for two days. Eventually, his staff shut off the phones.

At no point has he spoken to anyone about the bill, even its sponsors. He refused their request for appointments to meet with him. He simply shut the whole thing down. He ignored a request from the President of the Florida Senate to agenda the bill. He refused to answer questions from the media, until he really had no choice. He did finally state publicly he had no intention of allowing the recess bill to move forward in the Senate.

Senator John Legg owns a number of charter schools in Florida. His wife runs one of them, making a six-figure salary. The privatization of education in this country is big business. And in many cases, the ones who profit are the very legislators who make policy decisions regarding public education. If you think our elected officials are looking out for the best interests of their constituents, think again.

Not all are corrupt, of course. There are politicians who truly care and work tirelessly to address the concerns of the people who put them in office. We've had the opportunity to work with some of them here in Florida. We call them our "Recess Heroes." And many are working right now, behind the scenes, to try to get this bill around Senator Legg's roadblock and do what is right for our children. Last-minute maneuvering and deal-making is very much a part of the legislative process. Usually, it has nothing to do with the bill itself and everything to do with the people involved and the special interest groups that pay them.

Senator Legg introduced several bills regarding education this legislative session. Seven to be exact. Most concerned charter schools. They were all placed on his committee's agenda. But ensuring Florida's public elementary school children are guaranteed the fundamental right to play is not something he was interested in doing.

The Recess Moms held a press conference, with a dozen members of the legislature, all of whom urged him to reconsider. He dug his heels in deeper.

The House bill passed with a vote of 112-2. Legg reiterated that he had no intention of allowing the bill to move forward in the Senate. The President of the Senate backed him up, refusing to use his own power to go around Legg and support the bill. As I write, parents across the state are contacting the Senate President and Rules Chair urging them to take alternate steps to move the bill forward in the Senate. Any bill that passes in the House is automatically sent to the Senate, where it can be taken up for debate and a vote.

We aren't going to just go away. We are fighting for Florida's kids now. And we have no intention of stopping until we succeed.

Despite the media reporting our fight is over, we have not given up. Every possible option is being explored.

There are a few things I have learned by being part of this process. If you want to advocate for children in your state, here's what you need to do:

1. Organize

Start early at the local level. Gather people together who believe in your cause. Then branch out. Connect with others in a wider area. Bring groups together, pool your resources and grow, grow, grow. Numbers are important. You need as much public support as possible. You need experts and large organizations who will publicly back your mission—preferably those with pull in the legislature who are willing to help there.

2. Prepare

Understand the process you will be navigating. Learn who the important players are and meet with them. Try to anticipate ahead of time what resistance or obstacles you might run into and be prepared for them. Do your research and have answers and solutions at the ready. Have multiple layers to your plan; do not approach the issue from one angle only.

3. Roar

Use social and traditional media to get the word out about your cause. Mobilize your group and get in touch with your legislators. Flood their offices with emails and phone calls. Make personal visits to their district and capital offices. Plan to have members of your movement present for the legislative session.

4. Persevere

The Florida Recess Moms have not given up, even after fighting this battle for several years. Senator Legg is not going to stop us. We aren't going to just go away. We are fighting for Florida's kids now. And we have no intention of stopping until we succeed. We hope this is our year, but if it is not, we will be back next legislative session.

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5. Vote

One of the most powerful means each of us has to speak up about the things that matter to us is participating in elections. When you do, know who you are voting for. Don't just listen to what the candidate has to say—look at what he or she has done. Voting tallies are public record. Find out how legislators have voted on issues that matter to you. And if you don't like it, tell them so on your ballot.

The political process was designed to work for the people. We have to be informed and involved to ensure it does.

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