ATLANTA -- For three hours Friday, a parade of parents, teachers and health advocates complained during a public hearing about a state proposal that would end mandatory physical-education classes for middle schoolers.
"Children, especially, happen to have the reason for their obesity to be physical inactivity," said Dr. Mary Ellen Sweeney, president of the American Heart Association's Southeast Chapter. "Strong minds need strong bodies."
The proposal is one of four sets of rules tentatively approved by the Georgia Board of Education on April 13. The rules were needed to make board policies comply with Gov. Roy Barnes' sweeping education reform program signed into law this week.
Friday's public hearing was before a three-woman committee that will report to the full board at a special meeting next month. Committee Chairwoman Cathy Henson of Marietta said she expected another hearing would be needed if the board changes the proposals as recommended by speakers at the hearing.
The reform law removed the physical education requirement, but the board could keep it as part of its policy. Legislators changed the 90-minute daily health and fitness period to a 60-minute elective to free up more time for core academic subjects.
As a result, pupils could complete middle school without taking a single health or P.E. class.
"That would almost be criminal," William Forbus told the committee.
"We must educate the whole child, not separate the mind and body," said Mr. Forbus, professor of kinesiology and health science at Augusta State University and president of the Georgia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
Other rules on discipline, staffing, and reports to be sent to the state drew only minor opposition. A proposal spelling out maximum class sizes brought almost no comments even though it was one of the most heavily lobbied issues when the bill was debated.
And an unrelated rule concerning how handicapped children are taught brought a large crowd of parents and administrators, though it affects only a small number of children.
But fitness affects everyone, as several speakers noted, citing various statistics about disease caused by sedentary lifestyles.
"It's not a mystery what we need to do to remain healthy: exercise daily, stay away from tobacco and eat right," said Nettie Jackson, a parent of two girls who said she considers P.E. important enough to extend the school day to ensure it remains a required course. "The kids are getting those messages at school. They bring them home to me."
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