EDUCATION
12/09/2011 04:54 pm ET | Updated Dec 12, 2011

Florida Representative Proposes Bill To Ax Middle School Physical Education Requirement

Florida lawmakers are considering a bill to eliminate a requirement that the state's 6th through 8th graders must take one semester of physical education each year.

The proposal aims to allow localities to decide whether gym classes should be offered in their middle schools, and doesn't necessarily discourage physical education, Republican state Rep. Larry Metz -- the bill's sponsor, wrote in an email to ABC News.

"Simply because an idea may have merit for some does not mean that we should use the power of government to mandate it for all," Metz wrote to ABC. "Some physically fit and active middle school students might rather use that time in their school day to take another elective."

Beginning in August 2009, a new state law required middle schoolers to enroll in gym classes at school to combat childhood obesity and other related health problems. The law also permitted students to opt out of physical education with a letter from parents, and thousands submitted waivers to take electives like band and choir, the Orlando Sentinel reported in March.

Metz told ABC that schools were struggling to balance the additional time needed for physical education courses while pursuing academic improvement. For some schools, being in compliance with the law meant lengthened school days, but no "additional funding" was available to make that possible, he said.

In April, Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott's budget for fiscal 2011-2012 looked to cut state K-12 spending by 5 percent — to $16.5 billion from $17.3 billion. The cuts are seen in educator layoffs and slashing from art, music and physical education programs.

But John Todorovich, chairman of University of West Florida's health, leisure and exercise-science department, told the Sentinel in March that Metz's bill is "a step backward," and that schools should be looking to increase opportunities for physical activity, much less cut them.

"It's hurtful for children when you remove… maybe the only opportunity they have throughout the day to move," Todorovich said.

While the bill was approved by a 9-6 vote in a House committee, the bill doesn't have a Senate sponsor, and Republican state Senate President Mike Haridopolos told The Palm Beach Post that he hadn't even heard of the bill.

"Who said that? Who filed that one? I love P.E.!" Haridopolos told The Palm Beach Post. "That’s not on my to-do list at this point. My wife’s a doctor and I was a high school and college athlete. I believe P.E.’s a good thing."

For some students, physical education classes might be the only chances they can learn about the relationships among exercise, nutrition and health, HuffPost blogger Rae Pica writes. About 17 percent -- 12.5 million -- of the nation's children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California, just one in three students earned a "healthy" score on the state's physical-fitness test, according to data released in March.

Metz's bill comes in stark contrast to changes to Chicago Public Schools, where the district has lengthened school days by 90 minutes, creating up to 200 jobs for gym teachers and allowing for a shuffling of health, driver's education and other electives that were once offered in lieu of gym classes for the city's 11th and 12th graders.

Prior, Chicago schools -- much like what Florida middle schoolers would experience if Metz's bill passes -- could waive state requirements for physical education among 11th and 12th graders, a move that CPS officials told the Chicago Sun-Times was necessary to ensure juniors and seniors have every opportunity to fulfill credits and requirements necessary for graduation.

And across the Atlantic, sports medicine specialists are calling for mandatory "physical literacy" tests in schools -- alongside reading and math, BBC reports. The groups say that such assessments would help children understand nutrition and fitness and identify health problems.

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