School district votes to waive state P.E. laws

Nomaan Merchant

Students in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 can continue to miss part or all of physical education classes for extra academic classes despite the protests of some teachers and administrators.

The district’s school board voted 6-1 during its Dec. 19 meeting to seek renewal of a waiver of state P.E. rules. The waiver, first approved in 2001, allows elementary and middle school students to miss part or all of P.E. with prior parental approval.

Now, less than a dozen students in the district miss all of P.E. every day. A handful of elementary school students and about 100 middle school students miss P.E. occasionally. About another 50 miss a fraction of class each day.

Illinois is the only state in the nation to require all public school students to take physical education every day from kindergarten to 12th grade. But school districts can apply for a waiver from the law allowing administrators to remove students from physical education for academic purposes.

The exclusion of students from physical education classes has caused controversy among teachers and administrators who say students need physical activity during their school days.

During the meeting District Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the physical welfare of students is a concern but P.E. classes must sometimes be sacrificed for academic purposes.

“It’s an interesting dilemma,” said Murphy, who added that removing students from P.E. to help them meet state standards is not “an unreasonable trade-off.”

Board member Sharon Sheehan, the lone dissenter in the board’s decision to apply for the waiver’s renewal, disagrees with this assessment.

“Legally, they could pull kids out of P.E. five days a week for whatever they wanted,” Sheehan said. Though there have been no documented records of abuse by parents, Sheehan said, “I just don’t want there to become a problem.”

Elementary schools use the waiver sparingly, according to a Dec. 12 memorandum written by Assistant Superintendent for School Operations Lynn McCarthy. Two students currently leave P.E. once a week for bilingual speech or social work.

The most common use of the waiver occurs at the middle school level.

About 100 students participating in band sometimes miss physical education class once every six weeks. Both elementary and middle school students miss P.E. sparingly for reasons such as makeup work or special education testing.

About 60 students miss some or all of physical education class every day to travel to Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., for accelerated math classes.

Amy Hodges, a physical education teacher at Nichols Middle School, 800 Greenleaf St., acknowledges that, for many students, “we’re the easy class out, unfortunately, which is why kids miss P.E. … I think one or two days is fine, but five days is too much.”

At Nichols, seven students miss P.E. for classes at ETHS.

Board President Mary Rita Luecke, who voted for the waiver, said that holding students out of P.E. is not a perfect solution.

“Personally, I think it’s a problem to pull kids out of P.E.,” Luecke said. “Kids need to move around … for their mental and physical well-being.”

But others say missing physical education is necessary if it allows more time for academics.

“If the school has a limited amount of time, (missing P.E.) would be best,” said Ana Tejeda, a parent of a sixth-grader at Nichols.

Kathy Mitchell, a physical education teacher at Nichols, pointed out that many students already lack adequate physical fitness.

“We have an obesity epidemic nationwide,” Mitchell said. “So what are we doing for our kids by taking them out of class?”

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