Freshman student athletes at Oak Park High School will have some relief now that the Oak Park Unified School District Board of Education revised a policy that required them to take a physical education class even though they are already participating in a school-sponsored team sport.
Principal Kevin Buchanan gave an impassioned plea at the Nov. 17 board meeting for the change. The new policy, which will kick in next year, will allow ninth-grade students who are participating in a school-sponsored team sport an exemption from taking a traditional physical education class.
Freshmen will be able to choose whether or not they take a P.E. class while they are participating in a sport, Buchanan said.
But the new policy does not give P.E. credit to freshman students for participation as do other schools in the area. Instead, the new policy will simply allow more flexibility during their freshman year.
Student athletes must also pass the California Fitness Test at the end of ninth grade to earn P.E. credit for team sport participation in grades 10 through 12. They must earn a total of 20 P.E. credits to fulfill the P.E. graduation requirement. Ten units are earned through traditional yearlong P.E. classes or through team sports.
Buchanan said that the new policy does not go as far as other schools.
“There are strong feelings on campus that kids should take P.E.,” he said.
It’s not just the physical component of the program, he said, but the curriculum. Nutrition and information on lifelong fitness is taught in traditional P.E. classes.
Buchanan said that in the past there was concern that without the requirement, the P.E. teaching staff might have to be reduced, and nobody wanted teachers to lose their jobs.
“We would have to get P.E. teachers to actually coach sports and that may or may not happen,” he said, adding that coaches were commonly P.E. teachers several years ago, and the trend is catching on again. At Oak Park High that coach/P.E. teacher combo dropped to zero a few years ago, but now six coaches have credentials to teach physical education.
However, the education code, he said, allows the board to exempt students from physical education classes if the benefits outweigh the cons.
Soccer players at the school often practice for 90 minutes in the morning and another 90 minutes after school every day. When they are required to take a 90-minute P.E. class on top of that, Buchanan said the 4.5 hours of strenuous exercise that these students are doing is overkill.
Another related issue is that the time spent in a P.E. class forces some students to take a zero-period class to meet tough college admissions down the road. A zero period in freshman year translates into seven classes plus a sport that demands a commitment of many hours of practice per week.
Students entering ninth grade, he said, can opt to take P.E. during summer to make room in their schedule in the fall, although some students are already meeting as a team in the summer.
The revision allows ninth grade students to be exempt from P.E. as long as they are participating in a school-sponsored, interscholastic athletic program that meets before or after school hours.
Board president Barbara Laifman asked Buchanan if he would he be willing to monitor the program to see whether students were actually taking advantage of the extra time for additional classes. She also asked Buchanan to monitor whether ninth-grade athletes performed better academically without the overload of physical activity.
Other issues related to physical education are expected to be a topic of discussion for the board later next year. For instance, many high schools count cheer and marching band as a P.E. class, but Oak Park High does not, at least not yet.
According to Superintendent Tony Knight, the revision aligns with the district’s “Moral Imperatives,” including the goal of reducing student stress.
The revision passed 4-0 and will be effective in fall 2016.