ATLANTA - Kay Sands told the state school board during a public hearing Monday that her son wasn't the only one who suffered during the semester he went without physical education.
"All I could think about was those poor teachers who had to have my sixth-grade son for all those hours without physical education," the Gwinnett County mother said. "Kids need a release."
The board held the hearing to discuss a proposed rule change eliminating physical education and health class requirements for middle school pupils. Middle schools would still have to make the classes available to pupils who wanted to enroll.
Elementary pupils would be required to attend 90 minutes of the two classes combined each week under the changes, but local administrators would get to decide how much time to allocate to each subject.
In high school, P.E. and health classes are graduation requirements.
Opponents of the rule change fear lack of exercise and health information will create serious health problems for Georgia pupils.
"We are becoming known as the peach cobbler state," said Karen MacNamara, with the Georgia Coalition on Physical Education and Nutrition. She added the state's obesity levels continue to climb and that Georgia ranks among the lowest in physical fitness.
School officials said the rule change would give pupils more class time for core subjects like math and English, something mandated by House Bill 1187, sweeping education reform legislation enacted this spring.
"Health is a dynamic lesson in how to survive life. It's no longer a textbook lesson," said Mike Tenoschok, supervisor of health and physical education for Cobb County. "How improtant is your SAT when you have HIV?"
Karen Clevenger, a Savannah educator, said she worried children would be shortchanged without mandated P.E. and health classes.
"Many is the time we have to take over the role we used to leave to the home and the parents," she said. "We are a part of the total educational process of a child. Where else are they going to be given the chance to learn valuable health information? If they aren't given the opportunity to explore activities, they won't explore."
Bill Forbus, president of Georgia Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, said the proposed rule change isn't in compliance with House Bill 1187. He said the education reform legislation requires the state to set a minimum time requirement for health and P.E. courses in all grades.
"This is a serious issue affecting the lives of Georgia students," said Dr. Forbus, who is also a professor at Augusta State University.
Several educators also asked the board to consider making art and music classes mandatory also, fearing school systems would cut their programs to meet mandated P.E. and health requirements.
The board has already given preliminary approval to the rule changes. It will take formal action on the rule change in June.
Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.