All that’s needed is a governor’s signature and Virginia will have yet another unfunded mandate. Starting in 2014, all elementary and middle schools must provide 150 minutes of PE per week for students. Half-day kindergarten students would be exempt. This change would be most significant in elementary schools where only 10% of schools meet the state standard. Recess would not be allowed to substitute for PE.
Not everyone likes the new law. The VEA opposes the bill. Several school systems oppose it also. According to the Washington Post:
But some school district officials oppose the looming requirement – to be implemented in 2014 – saying it could extend the school day, lead to cuts in arts and music classes, or increase costs because additional teachers would be needed.
“Schools can’t be expected to solve all of society’s problems,” said Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale, who lobbied against the legislation.
Naturally, educators are concerned about PE cutting in to instructional time for academics. One of the biggest problems is where to hold PE classes during inclement weather. Many elementary schools simply lack facilities to have phyical activities going on inside the building. Most schools do not have gyms and often use the cafeteria when lunch isn’t being served. That’s going to be a problem.
Let’s say that there are 3 classes of each grade level. That number is fairly standard. 3 classes times 6 grade levels is 18 class periods who have use a multipurpose room when lunch isnt served…each for 150 minutes a week. Breaking it down into a day, that’s 30 minutes a day if done daily. If kids are in school 7 hours a day and let’s say 3 hours are taken up with serving lunch, taking tables up and down, and cleaning up that leaves 4 hours for PE instruction. Only 8 classes can do a 30 minute session. That’s less than half of classes. Perhaps they can double or triple up.
Who is going to teach PE? In elementary school, the teacher of everything else will inherit that duty. In middle school, anyone with a middle school endorsement can do it but, again, where? This is Virginia. Winter time doesn’t encourage outdoor activity from December through March. Its just too darn cold. There is often snow on the ground.
Currently, different schools have different requirements, according to the WaPo:
In Fairfax County, the state’s largest school district, students at 139 elementary schools are required to take at least 60 minutes of physical education a week. Prince William County requires 90 minutes a week for students at 55 elementary schools.
Keith Imon, Prince William’s assistant superintendent for communication and technology services, said that children do need to get more physical activity but that he doesn’t know how the bill can be implemented without additional costs. The county would have to increase physical education for elementary school students as well as sixth- and seventh-graders, who take about 112 minutes of physical education a week.
8th graders have the health component worked into the PE program. That’s less time for them also.
Once again, the General Assembly has failed to think something through. All kids need more physical activity, no one is arguing that one. However, the new law is simply not do-able. So once again schools and school systems will be figuring out ways to get around the new law because they have no choice. Not enough teachers, not enough space and not enough time. Things are already stretched to the max. Remedial classes are held in stairwells and broom and book closets in many schools.
The State Board of Education has thumbed its nose at recess for the past 30 or so years in favor of PE. As I recall, recess used to be the time that kids ran outside and jumped rope, played ball, and generally let off a lot of steam from being cooped up in class most of the day. Maybe the state legislature ought to consider bringing recess back. That’s when kids got outside and moved around. Kids do better at being kids than adults do when forced to provide structured PE. If we let kids be kids, there might be fewer health problems.
This is definitely a case where the state needs to be aware of unintended consequences. This plan is half-baked!