Local advocate hopeful for passage of bill pushing for more elementary P.E. time

Local advocate hopeful for passage of bill pushing for more elementary P.E. time

Legislation sets ‘goal’ of 90 minutes per week

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Photo via MCPS

For at least the 10th consecutive year, a bill pushing for 90 minutes of physical education for elementary school students each week has surfaced in the Maryland General Assembly.

House Bill 516, sponsored by Del. Jay Walker, a Prince George’s County Democrat, says each elementary school should set a “goal” to develop a program that provides 150 minutes each week of “moderate-to-vigorous” physical activity. At least 90 minutes would be alloted to physical education classes.

A nearly identical bill failed last year on the final day of the legislative session after clearing a vote in the Senate.

Matt Slatkin, a physical education teacher at Newport Mill Middle School near Wheaton, said on Tuesday that he thinks this is the year the legislation will pass.

“It was so close last year and this year the bill is cross-filed in the Senate, so I feel confident,” said Slatkin, an outspoken supporter of the bill for several years. “I just think that we talk a lot about kids’ health and wellness, but it’s time to act. This is something tangible — it’s not a study, it’s not a theory, it’s an actual 45 more minutes of P.E. every week.”

Montgomery County schools provide an average of 45 minutes a week of physical education, one of the lowest totals in the state.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday afternoon in the House Ways and Means Committee. Slatkin and two of his students are scheduled to testify.

Last year, the Montgomery County school board opposed the bill because it imposed a state mandate with a large associated price tag — more than $11 million — without additional state funds. The original draft of the 2019 bill would have required school districts to meet the 90-minute benchmark, requiring additional staff members and altered school schedules, according to a state analysis of the bill.

The bill was amended to soften the language to say the guidelines would be a “goal” rather than a “mandate,” prompting the school board to support it, if it were changed further to include its own amendment. The MCPS amendment dropped the exercise goal from 90 minutes to 60 minutes.

The Senate incorporated the school system’s changes into a bill it approved, but delegates in the House said 60 minutes of physical education was not enough and the bill did not pass.

This year’s bill is identical to the 2019 bill before the physical education goal was dropped to 60 minutes.

Nearly 15 percent of Maryland children are overweight and 11 percent are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national childhood obesity rate is 18.5 percent. Children who are obese are more prone to serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the CDC says.

The CDC says children should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day to prevent obesity.

Walker’s bill calls on the state Department of Education to compile data annually from each elementary school about its implementation of physical education and daily exercise. The Department of Education would also be tasked with creating an Advisory Council on Health and Physical Education to develop programs to educate students about the importance of physical activity and healthy eating.

A fiscal impact analysis of the bill says that because the physical education guidelines would not be a mandate, “it is assumed that local public elementary schools” can comply “using existing resources.”

Another section of the bill says recess could not be withheld as punishment for elementary and middle school students.

The bill, if passed, would go into effect July 1.

“Change is hard for school systems, but I think it’s really time everyone comes together for the betterment of the kids,” Slatkin said. “This is something that can help.”

 

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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