Bill Mandates 150 Minutes of PE Every Week

FCPS is concerned about the cost and strain of this mandate should the bill pass. Should you be?

My fondest memory of Physical Education (PE) involves dodging flying red rubber balls.  And even then, some of them inevitably whacked me on the head (probably knocking out any other memories of that class).  My point is, I was not a fan.  I spent my first year of high school in Ohio where we were required to take at least one year of PE.  I decided to get it out of the way as a freshman, but then we moved to a country where I had to take it there, too.  That's just how my luck runs, I suppose.

So why the ruminations on the finer points of my time in gym class?  At the moment, there is discussion on Senate Bill 966 that would mandate 150 minutes of physical education per week in schools.  On average, 30 minutes a day.  In theory, this sounds like a great idea.  

In practice, Fairfax County Public Schools isn't so sure.  The stated goal of the bill is to improve student health and reduce childhood obesity, which FCPS is (of course) in support of.  However, in a letter they recently sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell, they requested that he veto the bill.

At first, I was quite surprised by this move.  After working in a school where my students went to PE for 45 minutes every day, I am in favor of exercise.  And lots of it.  It gave me a chance for some planning time, and it helped tire out my kids (although it by no means exhausted them...they are like energy machines).  These are good things in my book.  After reading the letter in full, though, I feel that FCPS made some excellent points.

They mention the cost of hiring extra PE teachers, the fact that schools are not designed for that amount of gym use, the difficulty of giving teachers adequate planning time and the possible necessity of either cutting into core subject time or adding hours to the school day.  None of these are attractive options for either students or teachers.  I was lucky to be in a small enough school where one teacher and an assistant were sufficient for physical instruction.  That is not the case in our public schools, where in order to accommodate the additional demand created by this bill, they would have to hire more staff members, which they estimate costing between 18 and 24 million dollars.

During my final two years of high school, I completed the International Baccalaureate.  Besides having a name that is difficult to spell (and some truly scary exams), it also requires 50 hours of various activities for each of the three categories: creative, action and service.  That's a total of 150 hours. If the school had tried to provide us with opportunities for completing this requirement, they may have run into the same problem FCPS could be facing.  Instead, we were able to fulfill those hours outside of school and have our coach or adviser sign off on our hours.  We also had to write reflections on what the various activities meant to us, which eventually created a log over two years of how we grew through each extracurricular.  

Fifty hours of physical activity over two years may not seem like much.  But if we could apply the same principle to this PE bill here in Virginia and allow kids to count the after-school sports they already participate in (or could join to fulfill this requirement), it may ease the pressure FCPS will face should the bill pass.

Then again, I may just be trying to spare the students many more years of having balls thrown at them.


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