Parents who’ve been pushing for several years to restore recess in Chicago schools won a victory in Springfield last week when the General Assembly voted to establish a legislative task force on the issue.
Members of POWER-PAC,  a citywide organization of black and Latino mothers, have worked in Springfield for four years for Recess For All , coming closest two years ago  when the House and Senate passed a bill mandating recess in Illinois schools but failed to agree on final language.
Some 82 percent of Chicago elementary schools do not provide recess for their students, said Tracy Occomy of Community Organizing Family Issues , which provides training and support for POWER-PAC. Those allowing recess tend to be magnet schools and schools serving higher-income children, she said.
Occomy said that a statewide search failed to identify any other school district beside CPS that doesn’t provide recess.
The push for recess grew out of POWER-PAC’s work to reduce “alarming rates” of suspensions  in elementary schools. They cited research showing children who are allowed to have recess act out less and learn better. In 2005 Newstips reported on a meeting between POWER-PAC and then-school board president Michael Scott, who abruptly walked out when parents started talking about the need for recess.
Since then a growing concern over childhood obesity has added to the concern.
Childhood obesity in Chicago is significantly higher than the national average, according to the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children , and higher yet in communities of color, where recess is rarely available. In Englewood, childhood obesity rates are twice the national average, according to CLOCC.
The new task force will include representatives of parent, health, and restorative justice groups, in addition to legislators, CPS, teachers unions, principals and the PTA. The goal is to reach consensus on overcoming obstacles to recess and make recommendations for legislation in the next General Assembly, Occomy said.
It’s the latest victory for COFI, which celebrated its 15th anniversary last week. The group uses traditional community organizing approaches but focuses on mothers in low-income communities of color. Working with local community groups and social service agencies, COFI trains parent action teams which choose their own issues.
Currently parent action teams are working on a variety of issues in West Town, Humboldt Park, Austin, North Lawndale and Englewood.
On restorative justice, POWER-PAC members founded the Austin Peace Center five years ago to implement restorative justice in two West Side elementary schools. Working with a citywide coalition, POWER-PAC pushed CPS to drop its zero tolerance policy and recognize restorative justice in its disciplinary code in 2007. They’re also training parents in restorative justice at Reavis Elementary in Bronzeville. (More here.)
POWER-PAC has also led a citywide push to improve participation in early learning,  training mothers in childcare centers to serve as Head Start Ambassadors and forming walking preschool buses in several communities.
The Austin-Wide Parent Network has worked on community health issues – including an exercise program for mothers – and parent teams in Englewood have hosted bike and walk to school rallies and won playlots at two elementary schools in the past two years.