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Relaxation activities in Illinois schools raises academic concerns

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(The Center Square) – The governor is expected to sign Senate Bill 2872, which pushes schools to provide relaxation activities for Illinois students.

Opponents argue the students’ academic performance is suffering and yoga classes won’t solve the problem.

According to new Wirepoints data, 35% of Illinois students statewide read at grade level. And 27% of Illinois students statewide do math at grade level. Meanwhile the governor is expected to sign a mandate that requires Illinois school districts to offer a weekly 20-minute session dedicated to relaxation activities in addition to regular recess. State Rep. Blaine Wilhour raised concerns about mandated yoga classes interfering with a student’s religious preferences.

“How do you square the thought that yoga is a spiritual activity and certainly it has its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism?” asked Wihour.

State Rep. Laura Faver Dias argued the pledge of allegiance includes the phrase “Under God,” and therefore that practice has a religious foundation and is currently accepted in public schools.

“Many of our traditions within our schools have religious foundations. We say the pledge of allegiance daily and say, ‘Under God,’ our school calendar is based on a Christian holiday calendar, we celebrate Halloween and that has pagan origins… so I think it’s unfair to specifically have issues with yoga because of its religious origins,” said Dias.

Dias said parents will have to consult with school boards and their policies if wanting to opt their child out of the relaxation activities. An amendment to the bill removed the word “shall” and replaced it with “may,” so schools don’t have to participate in offering relaxation activities.

Proponents of relaxation activities for Illinois students say they believe the 20-minute session dedicated to relaxation activities in addition to regular recess will improve students’ mental health, but opponents argue that’s not going to help because the other mandates haven’t worked.

State Rep. Daniel Swanson explained how the state legislature recently passed a mandate requiring schools to provide 30 minutes of recess each day and that kids are still struggling with mental health. Swanson said adding another 20 minutes isn’t going to help the mental health issue.

“Now we’ve got to add another 20 minutes into the school week, or five minutes per day, and we continue to take away from math, scene, history and other classes that students expect to be taught in our schools. We keep reducing the teacher-contact with students by adding 30 minutes for this and 20 minutes for that … I think we need to focus on education,” said Swanson.

Opponents argue the additional free-time is distracting and lacks discipline therefore is damaging to a student’s mental health. State Rep. Laura Faver Dias carried the bill in the House and said the bill’s aim is to show students, teachers and schools that the legislature values mental health.

“If you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a core tenant of your education curriculum. Students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe and being safe means physically and emotionally safe and it is in our student best academic outcomes that we teach them how to regulate and deal with stress,” said Dias.

The bill is on the governor’s desk and is expected to be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.