School district may offer athletes pass on gym class

School district may offer athletes pass on gym class

Michele Ellson

Mike Robles-Wong’s eldest daughter, Maya, has been a competitive rower since her days at Lincoln Middle School. While a student at Alameda High, she trained five or more days per week for most of the year.

Robles-Wong said she tried to add as many Advanced Placement classes to her schedule as possible to be competitive for college, but she couldn’t make them all fit. He’s in favor of a proposal from school district officials to allow student athletes to skip out on a year of physical education.

“Maya used to complain to me, ‘Why am I forced to sit in this P.E. class when I’m rowing?’ It’s kind of a misuse of the time,” Robles-Wong said. “If kids are in something more rigorous than what’s being offered in the high school and they’d be able to meet academic requirements, why not use the time?”

Parents told the school board this week that their student athletes are already getting the exercise they need. They said their children want to be able to fill a period now occupied by physical education with other academic pursuits.

Some said their children want the time to squeeze in additional math or Advanced Placement classes in order to make themselves more attractive to colleges, while others said they’d like to fit in art or music classes they won’t have time for otherwise.

“Some kids, that’s where they really excel. And we never get to see that,” said Gail VanWinkle, a parent and president of the board of Alameda High's music boosters.

She said her son, Erik, a junior who plays baseball and soccer and the trumpet, chose music over physical education last year after he wasn't able to get into a before-hours gym class. He skipped science this year in order to take his first year of physical education.

"These are the choices that we're making. And it's silly," said VanWinkle, who said this issue has come up repeatedly over the years.

The high schools’ athletic directors have questioned the proposal, saying physical education is just as important as other subjects and that even student athletes should take it. Encinal High School’s athletic director and dean, Kevin Gorham, said that unlike sports, the classes offer state-issued curriculum LINK HERE that is taught by credentialed teachers, including nutrition.

“It’s a learning opportunity (to participate in) other activities that could aid their long-term health,” Gorham said. He said the school’s gym teachers recently added aquatics to their lesson mix and plan to offer weight lifting.

But some parents have questioned the value of what’s offered in gym class. Maria McCord, a teacher and parent of an Alameda High School junior, said her son’s gym class experience the year before included time on the bleachers “because nothing is being taught.”

“He said, ‘Mom, at least half the time, we were just in the gym doing pacers or hanging out. The P.E. teacher threw out basketballs for us to throw around, and Frisbees,” said McCord, who said her son showed up to school an hour early for gym class last year so he could take four math classes.

Alameda Unified has a policy on the books that offers students an exemption from the requirement in order to better accommodate their needs, but isn’t applied to student athletes, district staff told the Board of Education on Tuesday night. A second board policy requires all students to take two years of physical education even if they participate in sports.

District officials proposed allowing student athletes to be excused from gym class to take other classes during their sophomore year, provided they can pass state fitness standards at the end of ninth grade and show two semesters’ worth of active participation in an after-school athletic activity. A half-dozen other districts in Alameda County offer similar exemptions, district officials said.

Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said he could bring a rule change granting student athletes the exemption back to the board as soon as next week to be put into place next year, though VanWinkle said students are already choosing their classes for next year. And deciding what activities qualify for the exemption will take longer, said McPhetridge, who couldn’t say yet how many students might take advantage of such an exception.

“That’s an open question,” McPhetridge said. “People have said, ‘Is badminton equivalent to football?’”

The P.E. proposal comes as district leaders discuss whether to align the district’s graduation requirements more closely to those required for entry to a California state college or university. Most of the district’s trustees said Tuesday they think Alameda Unified should maintain its existing graduation standards, but provide better counseling so that students are more aware of courses they will need to take to get into a state school.

California’s state universities and colleges don’t have a physical education requirement, McPhetridge said.

McPhetridge said district leaders will continue to examine graduation requirements subject by subject at board workshops through December. He said the district will need to change arts, language and technology requirements to comport with new state law and that they and community members will also consider existing science and math requirements.

Robles-Wong’s younger daughter, Milena, enters high school next year. And like her sister, she’s taken up rowing.

“Nobody’s going to argue that competitive rowing doesn’t get people in top physical shape,” he said.


Submitted by Sara D. (not verified) on Sun, Nov 24, 2013

I think athletes should be able to skip gym or be able to only play the sport they play in gym because most althetes are already fit and need to focus on their sport for college scholarships.