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Maryland schools need more physical education, lawmaker says

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The majority of jurisdictions in the state set aside fewer than 90 minutes per week for physical education.

But for the past eight years, legislation introduced to require a higher physical activity and education standard in the state has still not seen progress.

The sponsor of the legislation, Delegate Jay Walker D-Prince George’s, called it “a bill that we’ve seen too many times over the years.”

The proposal requires all public elementary schools to set aside a maximum of 150 minutes per week for physical activity, including a minimum of 90 minutes per week for physical education.

For required minutes not spent in physical education, elementary schools would have to designate a physical activity leadership team to plan and coordinate extra opportunities for activity, the bill states.

The biggest issue remains what the school districts would cut from their academic curriculums to provide more time for physical activity.

Walker said he “talked to people that work with Boards of Education in the state (who) said if it’s mandated they would find a way to make it work.”

During the bill’s hearing on Feb. 8, Delegate Carolyn Howard D-Prince George’s, asked how to incorporate more physical education.

“The question has always been, what do you remove or delete in teaching in schools so that we can get the 90 minutes?” asked Howard.

Newport Mill Middle School physical education teachers Matt Slatkin and Shannon Spencer have supported this legislation “from the ground up” because, they told Capital News Service, lack of elementary school physical education affects students when they attend middle school.

Slatkin told the Capital News Service that Montgomery County Public Schools, where Newport Mill is located, “skirt” around the term physical activity by counting physical education with recess.

While the county includes the 30 minutes a day for physical activity during recess, students may not even move at all, Slatkin said. He added that recess is often held indoors during the winter and in times of bad weather.

Slatkin said physical education is taught by a professional teacher, whereas recess does not require a curriculum or standards, and does not teach anything.

“You can’t try to compare recess to physical education,” said Slatkin.

According to the Maryland State Department of Education, as of January 2018, Montgomery County has the lowest minimum amount of required physical education per week at 30 minutes, followed by Prince George’s with 40 minutes per week.

According to a state analysis, 18 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions do not meet the 90-minute standard under the bill; at least four of those would need to hire additional staff — at a total cost of $13.7 million — to meet that requirement if the legislation passes.

This includes $1.1 million for Allegany, $1.2 million for Cecil, $10.9 million for Montgomery, and $542,000 for Queen Anne’s; these amounts are expected to increase marginally over the following few years, according to the state analysis. Allegany would need 14 teachers, Cecil would need 17, Montgomery would need 133 and Queen Anne’s would need eight to meet the bill requirements, according to the fiscal analysis.

The other 14 jurisdictions that don’t require at least 90 minutes may also need an increase in funds to meet the standard, but they have not been assessed in the fiscal analysis.

The remaining 10 jurisdictions would not need additional funding because they already meet the proposed standards.

The bill would take effect on Oct. 1, but a local school system may apply for an extension until July 1, 2021, to ensure compliance.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 altered allotted time for certain school activities, according to the state fiscal analysis.

Following the No Child Left Behind Act, a national study on curriculum by the Center on Education Policy found that schools prioritized time on tested subjects, including math and language arts, and spent less time on other subjects and activities, including lunch, physical education and recess.

Walker said during committee testimony on Feb. 8 that the bill’s cost has decreased over the years and that “it is possible to implement this program.”

Patricia Swanson, legislative aide for Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, told Capital News Service the board opposed this legislation because it is a large unfunded mandate and does not believe this issue should be decided at a state level.

Swanson also said “MCPS has taken action to clarify physical education time with schools beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, and is taking steps to gather information directly from each school on current schedules and class time.”

In the 2018 to 2019 school year grades K-5 will be required a minimum of 45 minutes of physical education per week, she said.

Children between 5 and 12 years old should get at least an hour per day of physical activity, according to The National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The activity should be intermittent and a mix of moderate and vigorous exercise, the association said.

While the bill is not expected to progress in the legislative session, Slatkin told the Capital News Service that he believes that as the public’s knowledge grows, so will support for the bill.

“Nobody knew about this bill the past eight years and now it’s finally getting out,” said Slatkin. “It’s something that the parents want, the students want, and the teachers want.”

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