More gym classes? School leaders say no way
Posted: January 28, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Local school officials are hoping a bill that would require divisions to increase physical education in elementary and middle schools does not pass the Virginia General Assembly.
The unfunded mandate would force school systems to use local funds to hire additional staff or to rearrange current staff to cover the additional physical education class time.
Increased gym time could also result in students losing other electives, such as music, art, journalism, technology, and foreign language.
“We would have a very difficult time doing it,” said Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Rick Leonard. “Quite frankly the school day is full.”
The bill is currently in the Senate and will need to get through the House to pass.
The legislation requires at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day (at least 150 minutes a week) during the regular school year for students in grades kindergarten through eighth.
Physical activity may include any combination of physical education classes, extracurricular athletics, or other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board.
This requirement would become effective beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
In Frederick County, elementary school students receive 90 minutes of PE each week. In Clarke, that number is about 50 minutes a week. This does not include recess.
In the two counties, middle school students receive 225 minutes of PE each week, which satisfies the proposed mandate.
In Winchester, physical education classes are rotated and can be held one to several times a week at about 30 to 45 minutes per class. PE is an elective course in middle school, and some students can opt out depending on their program of study and extracurricular activities.
If the bill is passed, schools would have to hire more PE teachers or assign these additional duties to classroom teachers.
No state funding is being offered to offset the increased costs.
In Frederick County, increasing the PE requirement would require hiring 20 new elementary staff and an increase of about $1.2 million in funding.
“Our board is opposed to increasing the current PE requirement,” said Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy, records management and communications.
Clarke County Schools Superintendent Mike Murphy estimated that implementing the measure would cost the division about $200,000 more in operational costs.
If the bill is passed, most school boards would have to eliminate other programs such as art, music, foreign language, library, and remediation in order to comply with the mandate.
“It’s more of the same,” Murphy said. “When you add something, you have to give something up.”
Regardless of the costs, school officials say that childhood obesity is not something that can be solved by schools — that it is more of a parental issue than a educational one.
“Childhood obesity is not our problem,” Murphy said. “No one is going to get morbidly obese by eating a school lunch every day.”
A number of similar bills were considered by the General Assembly last year, but none were signed into law by the governor.
— Contact Rebecca Layne at email@example.com