Idaho education board questions physical education plan

The fight against obesity could become a battle over public schools' resources.

broberts@idahostatesman.comAugust 16, 2013 

Idaho's State Board of Education, which voted 4 to 3 to allow public hearings on a proposal mandating that high schools require two credits of physical education for graduation, could return in a couple of months and defeat the plan.

Board members initially voted to reject the plan before reconsidering and agreeing to ask the public its opinion.

The board said, generally, that the state should let districts develop their own PE requirements.

Members also worried about diverting resources to meet the demands for physical education, especially in small, rural school districts.

Some board members questioned the need to impose new requirements when the state already is implementing rigorous new academic standards. Students, for example, must take tougher math and science classes to graduate. And all Idaho schools are about to face a more difficult curriculum as the Common Core standards go into classrooms.

Increased PE requirements for schools were backed by the Idaho Department of Education and would take effect in 2019. The proposal is supported by the American Heart Association and Idaho Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

By 2015, 41 percent of adults in the country could be obese, the heart association estimates. Physical education is seen as one way to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

The Boise and Meridian school districts already require two credits of physical education for graduation. Nampa requires one. Caldwell and 24 other Idaho school districts have no requirement, according to data from 2011-2012, the latest numbers available from the state.

Around three-quarters of districts in Idaho require some PE. Idaho officials estimate that a dozen teachers would have to be hired across the state to make certain there are enough in all high schools.

High school students also would take CPR training as part of health classes, though they would not be required to pass a CPR test.

In addition to requirements in high schools, the state would set a minimum of 60 minutes of physical education a week in elementary schools and 200 minutes a week in middle and junior high schools.

The proposed requirements for elementary schools are less than half of that recommended as a best practice by the American Heart Association, along with the National Association of Sport and Physical Education.

"It is important to set a requirement that we believe is possible for schools and districts to achieve," said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state education department. Ninety-five percent of elementary schools already provide about 60 minutes, she said.

After public hearings on the PE plan, the proposal comes back to the Ed Board, probably in November. Even if the state board approves it, the Legislature still must consider the proposal.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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