Pointing to similar policies at high schools around the Bay Area, a pair of local parents want the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District allow students ditch P.E. class in favor of performing with the marching band or color guard after freshman year.
The proposal has been met with criticism from P.E. teachers at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools, who argue that while the students may be getting plenty of exercise, they are not getting the same type of instruction they would get in a physical education class.
Gaye Heck, co-president of the Los Altos High School Instrumental Music Boosters, and Bill Heye, president of the Mountain View High School Instrumental Music Parents Association, made their case for giving P.E. credit for marching band and color guard participants at the May 13 meeting of the MVLA board of trustees. The pair said it's highly athletic, pulling numbers from scientific studies to support their claims, and called marching band participants to speak to the board about just how hard they work.
Allowing marching band and color guard participants to receive P.E. credit would allow those students to pursue other interests through elective courses that they could take in place of a physical education class.
Trustees asked the district administration to come back at a future meeting with a study on the pros and cons of the idea, and to make a recommendation on which way the board should vote.
Participation in the high schools' marching band and color guard "requires a high level of physical fitness," according to Heck. Marching band and color guard practices and performances involve many hours of intense physical activity, Heck said in an interview with the Voice. The activity warrants physical education credit, she said.
P.E. teachers at both district high schools spoke out against the proposal at the district meeting. According to Barbara Kaufman, physical education department coordinator and teacher at MVHS, while playing the tuba and executing choreographed movements may offer quite a workout, that doesn't mean the high school students who participate in marching band and color guard ought to be given physical education credit.
"I get really upset when people ... think they are providing physical education, when they are just providing physical activity," Kaufman said, saying that P.E. is about more than raising heart rates and breaking a sweat.
Students in her classes are taught about the mechanics of their bodies, instructed on the importance of regular exercise and pushed to live active lifestyles.
"How many people go on to just march in a band after high school?" Kaufman asked rhetorically. "We want to give them concepts that they can take with them for the rest of their lives."
On the contrary, Heck said, marching band and color guard instructors teach students many of the same things they would learn in P.E., such as stretching, working as a team, proper posture to avoid injury, breathing techniques, the importance of staying hydrated and other skills to maximize their performance on the field. This is knowledge that the students carry with them into adulthood, she said.
Carole Stepp, a parent of a LAHS student in marching band, supported Heck's assertion. "There are a lot of people who are not athletic, who come to marching band and become athletic," she said, addressing the board on her daughter's behalf.
Stepp said her daughter was concerned about attrition from marching band, and believes that if the board changed the policy, it would encourage more students to take up instruments and join the band.
Change in law
During the board meeting, Brigitte Sarraf, MVLA's associate superintendent of educational services, said that the recent changes in California's education code, in her view, clearly allow the district to give P.E. credit to marching band and color guard participants.
For a short period of time in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the state's education code forbid local school districts from allowing teachers with non-P.E. credentials from teaching physical education. Saraff said she was unsure why the authority was taken away from school districts.
Nevertheless, the law changed back in early 2012, and local districts were once again given authority to allow non-P.E. teachers to teach classes for P.E. credit.
After the law changed again, Saraff said, districts all over the state began giving P.E. credit to students who participate in athletics, cheer squads or dance classes — just as the MVLA district has done.
"Our position is that there is no difference between band and athletics and rally (cheer)," Saraff said. "Athletics and rally have already been approved to generate P.E. credit."
She said it would be unfair to prevent marching band and color guard participants from earning P.E. credit, given that some these other activities are far less strenuous than marching band, but can earn credit.
Kaufman, who has fought back each time the board has considered awarding P.E. credit to non-P.E. classes or extra-curricular activities, told the board of trustees that this was faulty logic. "Because cheerleading got it, we should do, is not sound thinking," Kaufman said. "Our course is not labeled a physical activity, our course is labeled physical education."
That word — "education" — was stressed by a number of P.E. teachers who addressed the board on May 13. And Saraff said she believes it was stressed for good reason.
"We have very strong P.E. programs and highly skilled, highly professional P.E. teachers, who are working very hard," Saraff said, adding she suspects teachers like Kaufman may feel they are being slighted — that the administration is somehow saying, anyone can teach P.E.
"That's not at all our intention," Saraff continued. "I can see it from their perspective ... but we also feel that students should have choices."
Saraff said it was too soon for her to say what the administration's recommendation would be. "We're going to do what we think is best for kids," she said.