School District Policy vs. State Law

When it comes to education, federal law plays a very small role. States are the entities primarily responsible for the maintenance and operation of public schools. States dictate the establishment, selection, and regulation of curriculum, teaching methods, and instructional materials in their schools. When it comes to recess, study shows that state law has a more significant influence on whether children have enough recess than school district policy.

  • Policy: A written guideline adopted by the school district’s board. Policy reflects essential board governance statements, such as broad authorizations of programs and services or outlining the administration’s role in implementing these programs.
  • Regulation: Based on district policies but left to administrative discretion in both design and implementation. Regulations should not be adopted by the board but may be reviewed for compliance with the law and board policy.

When it comes to recess, studies have shown that state laws have greater effect on whether kids get recess, compared to district policy, where the effects are unclear. Here are a couple of studies that you might want to check out:

Cross-Sectional Association of State Recess Laws With District-Level Policy and School Recess Provision in the United States

The impact of state laws and district policies on physical education and recess practices in a nationally representative sample of US public elementary schools

Truth of the matter is, whether it is law or policy, they work best when it is spelled out as well as enforced. A policy is only as good as its implementation and enforcement. A change in policy isn’t the same as a change in hearts, minds, or habits. Once a policy is on the books, it is still up to all stakeholders, from school administrators to parents to see that it is implemented, enforced, and implroved.

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Irene Shen



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