IL to decrease P.E. requirement, NT unchanged

Claudia Levens

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A bill that could loosen Illinois’ daily Physical Education requirement has prompted discussion concerning how it will affect schools statewide. For New Trier, changes to the KW system seem unlikely.

Bill HB0440, which was introduced in January by Rep. Jeanne Ives, amends the current school code to say that physical education “may”- rather than “shall”- be provided to students. As a result, it will be up to individual school districts to decide if and to what extent they want to offer physical education to students. The bill also would allow waivers or exemptions for students.

John Gilchrist the Kinetic Wellness Department Chair, along with other new trier administrators, has been attending meetings since October to evaluate what this would mean for New Trier.

“The administration has always been supportive of our curriculum, so the meetings have mostly been about getting on the same page and deciding that this really isn’t going to have an impact here,” said Gilchrist.

In addition, Gilchrist pointed out that junior and senior interscholastic athletes are already except from class when in season, and further exemptions could affect student’s participation in the compulsory health curriculum- an issue not discussed or altered in the bill.

“Certainly the hope of daily KW classes is increased physical activity, but it feels like health is really valued among students anyways. I’m an athlete, and I work out on my own time, and sometimes KW feels unnecessary”, said junior Maddie McGregor.

KW and health teacher Andrew Horne pointed out that the benefits of P.E. stretch far beyond simply being physically fit. “There’s the social-emotional aspect, the academic advantages, increased motivation and confidence that it builds,” he noted.

“If schools do physical education the right way, which we try to, then kids should have it every day.”

Not just Horne has expressed these sentiments. From the White House to local school districts, public officials and educators have extolled the benefits of physical activity, and Illinois has been at the forefront in requiring physical education daily for students: it is the only state that requires physical education for all students K-12 every single day.

In response the bill, Illinois Education Association has solidified its stance against the bill and has subsequently launched a campaign in support of defending the status quo of daily P.E.

Supporters of the new bill don’t necessarily challenge the health benefits of physical activity as expressed by Horne and IEA. They acknowledge that these benefits can only be procured if P.E. is administered properly with adequate funding and argue that in many places throughout the state P.E. has been an unfunded mandate.

The Illinois Report Card of 2016 shows that nearly 1,200 schools reported having to cut physical education days from class schedules, citing problems with staff or facilities that prvent them from offering daily courses.

It also indicates that just slightly more than 60 percent of Illinois schools reported complying with the law by providing PE all five weekdays, leaving almost 40 percent without it.

Gilchrist pointed out that while P.E is hard to fund, all classes cost money. Schools will still have to pay for teachers and resources for a class to replace P.E.

Not to mention, P.E. classes typically accommodate more students than a usual class. “Because class sizes are so large at the high school level, it raises the question of what do you do with all the students in those classes,” said Gilchrist. This could mean that the accommodation schools would have to make to fill the vacant could potentially amount to a greater cost.

Before anything is actually implemented, the bill will be sent to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules where it will be written into a law- a process that will take 90 days. There, the committee will discuss the specific language used in the bill and add clarity to its details.

The bill would affect each unique school district differently, so while it might be more reasonable for some districts, the administration agrees that here, it is not as reasonable and therefore unlikely to change anything.

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