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Posted at 3:10 PM ET, 02/25/2011

Fairfax urges McDonnell to veto PE requirement for schoolchildren

By Anita Kumar
Anita Kumar

Fairfax County is asking Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto a bill that requires all children in public elementary and middle schools to participate in at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week to help fight the growing problem of childhood obesity.

School officials say the requirement -- to be implemented in 2014 -- would require them to extend the school day, lead to cuts in arts and music classes or increase costs because additional teachers would be needed.

In a lettersent Thursday to McDonnell (R) by the school board chairman and superintendent, Fairfax estimates that the bill could cost the school district $18 million to $24 million.

"Mandating a specific amount of time for physical education, particularly given the many other mandates and accountability requirements faced by our students and schools, will force school divisions into a very difficult choice,'' they wrote. "To implement the requirement, school divisions can either incur a very large unfunded local expense to hire new physical education teachers or extend the school day to preserve currently available instructional time or they can reduce instructional time that is currently dedicated to core academic subjects, non-PE resource classes."

A spokesman for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said he would review the legislation before deciding whether to sign it into law.

The change would be most significant in kindergarten through fifth grade, where experts estimate that fewer than 10 percent of schools in Virginia meet the standard.

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.

Liz Payne, Fairfax's coordinator for health and physical education, said this year's legislation will mean elementary students will have to more than double their physical activity. But, she said, it will not affect middle schools, where students take more than 150 minutes of physical education a week.

The bill does not require daily activity, nor does it allow recess to be included in the 150 minutes.

The Virginia Education Association, which represents thousands of teachers across the state, opposes the measure but supports the goal to provide more physical activity for children.

Robley S. Jones, the VEA's director of government affairs, said schools' budgets have been cut by 15 percent since 2008 and are being asked to do more. He said that if the state wants to implement the program correctly, it should provide districts with money for additional teachers or facilities. "There is a cost to this," he said.

In 2008, state legislators passed a bill recommending 150 minutes of activity in schools, but most did not abide by the recommendation.

By Anita Kumar  | February 25, 2011; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Robert F. McDonnell, State Senate  
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Over the past 22 years the Fairfax County School Board has considered several proposals to provide more PE for elementary school students, but these proposals were defeated supposedly on the basis of cost. All of these proposals were part of overall plans to end the current Monday early dismissal policy in Fairfax County elementary schools. Students are dismissed two hours early to allow teachers to have planning time.
In November 1989, former Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane proposed a plan to lengthen school hours with a seven-period day for secondary school students and full Mondays for elementary school students. The school board members approved the longer day for secondary school students, but said they would wait until the next year to do the same for elementary students, citing the $8.8 million cost of the program. This money would have paid for 220 additional teachers for art, music, and physical education.
On November 15, 1990, the school board narrowly defeated Dr. Spillane’s revised plan to provide a full day on Monday for elementary school students while providing classroom teachers with larger blocks of planning time during the student day. The cost of the rejected proposal was $5.6 million for 128.5 additional teacher positions. Some opponents of these reform proposals argued that PE was not important enough to justify the additional cost.
On February 5, 1996, the Time and Learning Task Force presented its final report to the school board. The Task Force presented options for providing a full-day on Monday for students and additional resource teachers for the school. Each school would have an additional two hours per week of instruction provided by resource teachers chosen by the school. With the additional two hours per week added to the existing instruction already provided by art, music, and PE teachers, each participating school would provide a minimum of five hours of planning time per week within the student day for every full time teacher. In 1996 there were 134 elementary schools in Fairfax County. The Task Force estimated that if all the schools implemented the full day Monday schedule the cost would range between $11-13M per year.
Currently most elementary school students in Fairfax County have 60 minutes of PE per week. A few have 90 minutes per week. If a requirement for a total of 150 minutes of PE per week were to be implemented, the additional amount of PE that must be added would range from 60 to 90 minutes per week. This could easily be accommodated by ending the two-hour early dismissals on Mondays. Most Fairfax County elementary school students and parents have waited in vain for 22 years for the Fairfax County School Board to provide more time, including more PE time, in school. The implementation of a state requirement for 150 minutes of PE per week for grades K-8 would provide the vitally needed impetus to finally achieve this long sought goal.

Posted by: vfshea | March 2, 2011 10:31 PM | Report abuse

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