CRYSTAL LAKE – Parents, physical education teachers and health professionals have shown up to back-to-back meetings of the Community High School District 155 Board to warn the district of potential negatives if it were to offer students a three-day-a-week PE class schedule.
The district is beginning to explore the idea after state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1947 on Aug. 31. It is a bill regarding school funding, but one that – among other things – allows districts to cut down on physical education classes if they so choose.
Fred Kaiser, a Crystal Lake resident for 40-plus years and a physical education teacher at Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47’s Lundahl Middle School, said he’s concerned about PE classes being decreased in District 155 high schools.
“We’re going to take a minimum standard the state has set and think this is good for our school district? I’m a little lost on this,” Kaiser said, noting numerous studies that show exercise brings many positives. “It lights up the brain. When it does that to the brain, it solves so many other problems in people’s lives. It reduces stress; it reduces depression, lowers the suicide rate, increases problem-solving, deters discipline problems.”
Allowing students to take fewer PE classes might result in the district needing fewer PE teachers.
On Jan. 18, District 155 Superintendent Steve Olson showed the board projections under two potential scenarios.
One proposal up for consideration is to allow seniors to take PE three days a week rather than five. The district would need 22.37 teachers for this, based on calculations, which is a decrease of 2.43 teachers.
The second proposal, which allows juniors and seniors to take PE three days a week, would require 19.97 teachers – a decrease of 4.83 teachers from current staffing levels.
The district has not yet gotten into how much money could be saved by reducing staff under these proposals.
Based on district documents, it appears that possible changes would not be in full swing until the 2019-20 school year. The district will spend this year evaluating the pros and cons of potential changes.
Reduced PE would not be forced
For decades, the state mandated that districts have daily physical education classes – unless districts applied and received a waiver, typically because of a lack of facilities to hold the courses.
Even with changes to the state law, District 155 will not mandate that students take less than five days of PE a week. Currently, athletes and marching band members can seek exemptions from PE and enroll in study halls or other elective classes.
“Certainly, kids can remain in physical education, if that’s their desire, for five days a week,” Olson said. “I don’t want to take that away, nor should we.”
Susie Wynne was a member of Team USA’s 1988 Winter Olympics figure skating team, and she now coaches young athletes as well as children with disabilities. She has a 17-year-old son at Crystal Lake Central and another child in seventh grade.
Wynne said District 155 is one that aims high and sets high standards, but she’s afraid that minimizing physical education days would “drop the standard.”
“We’re saying, ‘Eh, it’s not so important now,’ ” she said. “For the kids that are not active at all, three hours a week may be the only activity they get. It may be the only time their cellphone leaves their hand and they’re standing upright.”
Wynne said she’s a proponent of high academic rigor and test scores, but educators and parents can’t forget about giving students an outlet at school.
“We have to look at outlets – and that outlet is already before us,” she said. “It’s having a healthy lifestyle. Exercise and learning how to move your body makes you smart. That’s what’s in all the research.”
Bill Cox, an orthopedic surgeon with McHenry County Orthopedics, said that the timing of a student’s physical activity is key.
“High school students are, essentially, developing organisms,” he said. “It’s a crucial time in their development to have PE.”
Cox, who has lived in the district for 23 years and has two kids who went to district schools, said daily exercise helps teens’ developing musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems.
“But what’s less visible and actually more important are the effects the exercise has on their brain and central nervous systems,” Cox said. “Their fine and gross motor skills are developing, and so is their coordination. This is a time where if you lose this opportunity, it can’t be made up later.”
Other districts evaluate possibilities
Cary School District 26, a kindergarten through eighth grade district, is one that has physical education twice a week. Such schools throughout the state will be required to increase to three days a week or pursue a state waiver, according to the new law. This will require the district to have one more PE teacher for kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
District 26 board President Scott Coffey said the district may redeploy one of its middle school PE teachers to a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade role, or hire one. That decision will depend on a presentation in February by Superintendent Brian Coleman on staffing adjustments for the 2018-19 school year.
District 47 coordinator of community relations Denise Barr said district administrators are in the initial planning stages on the topic and will be making a recommendation to board members in the near future.
“Our plan is to examine the elementary schedule in general to determine how best to incorporate a third day of PE into the current instructional day,” Barr said in an email.
Huntley School District 158 director of communications and public engagement Dan Armstrong said he did not know of any discussions by district officials regarding changes to the district’s five-days-a-week physical education schedule.
Woodstock School District 200 director of communications Kevin Lyons said he was told the law won’t significantly affect the district’s staffing for physical education classes.