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Friday, March 5, 2010

Health beat: Is gym class coming back?

Health beat: Is gym class coming back?

Last update: March 5, 2010 - 6:19 AM

Remember recess?

A lot of Minnesota schools, asked to administer more standardized tests while also cutting budgets, simply gave it up.

Then came the epidemic of childhood obesity, and suddenly physical education in schools seems like a good idea again.

The Minnesota branch of the American Heart Association and a coalition that includes phy ed teachers and health insurance plans are once again pushing for a law that would require schools to adhere to national standards on physical education, just as they do for math and social studies.

This is the fifth year or so that the coalition has pushed for such a bill. Maybe this time, with First Lady Michelle Obama leading the charge for fitness, the bill will pass.

"What we are asking for is pretty basic," said Rachel Callanan, advocacy director for the Heart Association. "We believe that all students have a right to quality physical education."

The state dropped requirements for physical education earlier this decade, and instead allowed each district to set its own standards.

"That's why we have this scattershot approach," Callanan said. "Some schools are doing amazing things and others are falling behind."

The majority of schools in Minnesota has physical education programs, or try to, but over time the number has dropped. Today, Callanan said, 13 percent of Minnesota schools do not have a physical education requirement.

Previous attempts at legislation have failed in the face of opposition from school administrators who worried about cost. As a result, this year the coalition has scaled back its ambitions.

The newest version of the bill no longer would require schools to include physical education as a credited graduation requirement, and it would also give them a few years to ramp up their programs.

"We understand that school districts are squeezed," Callanan said. "We are trying to be flexible."

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

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