Teachers would struggle to rearrange their schedules, she said, and resources are more limited this year. The school's budget was cut by $500,000, resulting in the loss of three recess monitors for elementary students. Cole and staff fill in the gaps.

The school's $8 million budget does, however, include additional sports teams this year, theater, band, three art teachers, vocal music classes, foreign language, a new weight room and two field trips a semester. She said that teachers in all grades are encouraged to come up with ways to have students moving about in classrooms at least eight to 10 minutes a couple of times a week.

"We work to improve whatever you can when it comes to children with innovative ideas," Cole said.

City school officials said they don't dictate to principals how to structure decompression time for students.

"What we do say is schools should take into account what the research says about the needs of students for physical activity and different kinds of social interaction," said Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief academic officer for the school system. "And that should be reflected in their school program as well as their school schedule."

Such flexibility has inspired schools to develop a variety of ways for students to blow off steam, including rap sessions, advisory groups and wellness programs. But the flexibility has also left schools juggling priorities and demands.

"In schools that have communities that want and expect a lot from them on less resources — and can't just jack up their tuition like some private schools can — it's really a challenge to take all of those multiple demands and make sense of them in a way that provides a distinct, yet a robust education for their children," Santelises said.

Twenty-eight of the city schools that offer middle-school recess partner with Playworks, an organization that provides full-time trained recess monitors, coaches and other program coordinators who oversee physical activity in schools every day.

The organization targets schools with a large number of low-income students and matches schools' $25,000 costs for the program. Cole said she offered Roland Park parents the option of Playworks if parents could help raise the funds for the program.

Jessica Kohnen Karaska, executive director of Playworks Baltimore, said the biggest barrier the organization sees in middle-school recess is time management. She said there is also a misconception that middle-school students don't need recess, or that students that age won't use the time to "play."

"Whether they're engaged in a game or not, that opportunity for that social interaction, to continue to develop who they are as people, and their interaction with their peers, is also a great opportunity at a recess," Karaska said.

The Roland Park parents said that more than anything, their children need balance at the school, where middle-schoolers have little time for bathroom or locker breaks in between classes, and are required to sit with their classes, rather than their friends, at lunch.

Havely Taylor said her sixth-grade daughter doesn't seem bothered by a lack of recess.

But, Taylor said, "I see her melt down after periods of structured time, without any break."

She added, "I feel like she's worked [too] hard to go to a correctional facility."