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Should elementary schools have recess? Some Florida parents fight for break

Some Florida parents are fighting for their child’s right to recess.

Twenty-three elementary schools in Orange County, Florida, have been cutting back on recess, and even canceling it altogether to maximize class time. In a recent Orange County School Board meeting, parents asked that recess time be enforced in all local schools for all students.

Angela Browning, a parent in the area, told TODAY that schools are fluctuating between holding zero to 30 minutes of recess per day.

“Five-year-olds not getting recess is nothing short of abuse,” said Browning, who added that her twins, who are in the second grade, have ADHD and benefit from taking a break to use up some of their energy. "We will not accept a 'recess for some, but not all' approach."

"They have become machines that produce data as opposed to children,'' Amy Narvaez, a mother of two, told Kerry Sanders on TODAY Wednesday. 

At the center of the issue in Florida are Common Core exams, mandatory standardized tests in math, language arts and literacy, where the students' performance often dictates teachers' pay and sometimes their jobs. Many teachers are using that extra 20 minutes that would have been spent on the playground at recess in order to teach the test. 

"Because so much of the money is tied to the schools' scores and their grades, everybody's pressured,'' Diana Moore, president of the Orange Count Classroom Teachers Association, told TODAY. 

"We will come to a place in Florida and probably nationally where we have to admit that we really don't have enough minutes in the day to get everything done that we'd like to see accomplished for our children,'' Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins told TODAY. 

The decision of whether recess takes place, and for how long, has thus far been up to each school’s principal.

“Florida law requires that districts provide 900 instructional hours during the school year,” Florida’s Department of Education press secretary Cheryl Etters said in a statement. “Whether recess is part of the school day is a decision made by the school board.”

Eliminating recess also can take away an opportunity for children to learn social skills, according to many experts. 

"At the end of the day, who cares if you have straight A's and you get a scholarship to Harvard if you're socially inept?" Heather Mellet, a mother of two children in the district, told TODAY. 

NBC's Krista Brunson, Amy Eley and Scott Stump contributed to this report.