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P.E. bill upsets school officials
Phys ed bill draws comments

Date published: 2/12/2011

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND

--Since legislators passed bills requiring middle and elementary schools to provide 150 minutes a week of physical education, school leaders have apparently bombarded their legislators with concerns.

"My e-mail has been lit up about this from my constituents, some things that they were pointing out that we didn't discuss last time," Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, said yesterday as the House of Delegates prepared to vote on the Senate version of the bill.

The bills require schools to dedicate an average of 150 minutes a week to physical education by 2014. That doesn't include recess--physical education can mean nutrition classes or other wellness education.

Proponents say that childhood obesity is becoming a serious problem and that more focus on health and activity would help combat it.

But school officials say the bills would force them to cut other things out of the school day--like music and arts, said Orange County School Board member Jim Hopkins.

"If physical education becomes a required subject in all grades, it will have unintended negative consequences for Virginia's public schools," Hopkins said. "Without extending the school day, more physical education means less of something else."

School officials are also concerned the rule could require them to hire more staff.

Albo said Fairfax school leaders told him it would cost them $8 million a year to comply with the bill's provisions.

Del. Anne Crockett-Stark, R-Wytheville, said she, too, has heard an earful from her district's school officials.

"We need to let schools do some of their own scheduling," she said. "This could change and mess up a lot of scheduling with elementary and middle schools."

Del. Tom Rust, R-Herndon, said superintendents tell him that by the time they do core subjects, financial literacy requirements and the new physical education requirement, "there's 22 minutes left in the school day for other activities."

Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, said he thinks the bill is necessary to make up for physical activity kids no longer get at home.

When he was a kid, Ware said, his mother made him go outside and play.

"You had to sit in the sun while she sat under the air-conditioning," Ware said.

He said a high number of African-American children suffer from juvenile diabetes.

"Yes, it's because of what they eat, but it's also the lack of exercise," Ware said.

Del. John O'Bannon, R-Henrico, who sponsored the House version of the bill, said it's a policy decision that the state should support. O'Bannon, a doctor, said he recently read that teenagers are suffering a higher number of strokes.

"We are now seeing the actual effects of childhood obesity," he said.

The bill passed the House on a 55-40 vote--suggesting the idea has lost some support in the past few weeks. The vote on O'Bannon's version of the bill was 65-31.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com