Illinois students are one step close to getting a recess break during the school day if one of state Sen. Kimberly Lightford’s (4th) bills, which passed the Senate May 10, becomes law.

Senate Bill 636 would require schools to offer children K-5 an outside recess of at least 20 minutes, weather permitted. With respect to sixth-through-eighth grade students, schools would be encouraged to offer recess, but the law will not mandate it, according to a written statement from Lightford’s office.

The senator, whose district includes portions of Austin, also pushed through a separate bill, SB 3259. That measure would create a commission to study high school graduation rates across the state, along with dropout-prevention methods and increasing the dropout age by a year to 18.

Both bills need to be considered by the full General Assembly for final approval.

Lightford insists that mandatory recess will help to improve students’ health, social skills and learning ability.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that kids need to be kids,” she said. “Our children deserve a chance to play and relax during the school day. Learning to make friends and use your imagination is every bit as important as learning multiplication and grammar.”

Jessica Handy, policy director for Stand for Children, a national advocacy group focused on having all students graduate from high school, said the organization fully supports SB 3259.

In 2005, Illinois increased the school dropout age from 16 to 17, and since then, the state has seen fewer dropouts, Handy said. In fact, the dropout rate decreased from 4.6 percent in 2004 to 2.7 percent in 2011. The results, she added, have been positive, and increasing the age to 18 “makes a lot of sense.”

Jill Whol of Raise Your Hand Coalition supports the mandatory recess, arguing that for too long a majority of CPS students have gone without such a daily break.

“I’m glad to see the legislature are getting interested in putting some teeth behind and addressing some of the shortfalls that Chicago children have had for decades,” Whol said.

Concerning not mandating recess for the middle school-aged kids, Whol believes it’s because those grades are usually required to have physical ed class.

“For the older kids, there may be other options. But again, it’s so dependent on facilities,’ she said. “Any good policy has to accommodate for people to overcome challenges.”