Parents push for P.E. exemptions

No consensus between district board members

Parents and students loaded up the multipurpose room at Alta Vista High School last Monday to convince the school board to allow ninth grade P.E. exemptions, which would free up the schedule of incoming freshmen that take after-school sports and electives.

But after hours of discussion and public comment, the board was still split. Trustee Joe Mitchner said he would have trouble creating a path for students through high school where they are never exposed to physical education across all four years. Grade levels 10-12 already have existing, less restricting P.E. exemptions, and adding ninth grade to the fold means students could avoid P.E. altogether.

"District policies apply to everyone," Mitchner said. "It's important for students to be exposed to some of the things in the (P.E.) curriculum."

Kenneth Moussavian, the board representative for Los Altos High School, also weighed in. He said he managed to do extra-curricular activities and take challenging courses in his freshmen year without the exemption, and valued P.E. as one of the few courses that can take students out of their comfort zone and teach them important skills.

Marti McGuirk, a counselor at Mountain View High School, added that students who participate in P.E. in ninth grade are not at a disadvantage when it comes to preparing for college, and student acceptance rates to top-tier colleges are not hindered by the requirement.

Trustee Phil Faillace, on the other hand, supported bringing back the exemption. He said students should have the flexibility to specialize in the courses they choose, and it should be up to the students to decide. He added that scheduling conflicts are a problem because students would still have the enroll in P.E, but that shouldn't stop the board from voting for the exemption.

"This is a logistical problem to be solved," Faillace said.

The board agreed to look at more options and find creative ways for ninth grade students to fit all the electives and extra-curricular activities in their schedule, and come back to the exemption proposal at a later date. If the board decides to adopt the P.E. exemption, it would not take effect until after the 2014-15 school year.

Doug Moore is a parent of an incoming freshman student whose son plays trumpet, takes a foreign language and participates in after-school sports. As of next year, he might have to stop playing an instrument to make room for the mandatory P.E. course -- a decision Moore thinks his son should not have to make.

Moore said the state education code clearly allows exemptions, and the board had little reason to make ninth grade P.E. mandatory back in 2009. He said it's a common misconception among parents, teachers and even administrators that state code has changed over the last decade to require freshmen to take P.E.

But interpreting the education code may not be that simple. At the board meeting, Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf said she vividly remembers the reinterpretations of the education code over the years to adhere to state standards, including new requirements for P.E. to be taught by a physical education instructor.

Faillace said the education code is ambiguous enough that the board could vote for a limited exemption for ninth grade students, and the discussion would be better spent talking about whether or not the district would have a better ninth grade program if they provided the exemption.

Despite the ambiguity, the exemption is certainly the exception to the rule. Thirty-six of the thirty-nine high schools in Santa Clara County require ninth graders to take P.E., according to a district report requested by the board.

Sarraf said the exemption would help the few ninth grade students who are juggling a stacked schedule, but would change little for the average student taking a normal course load.

"We're talking about not a lot of students," Sarraf said. "These are the students that load up their schedule with requirements, sports, music and take foreign languages."

On top of that, Sarraf said students could still take a zero period to fit everything into their schedule without the exemption -- an option parents like Moore oppose because it would cut into their kids' sleep schedule. Sarraf said at some point students with ambitious schedules need to decide between a zero period and dropping one of their electives.

If the school board votes to allow the exemption for ninth graders who take after-school sports, those students will still have to enroll in P.E. for that year and attend the course during off-season. This creates a logistics nightmare for P.E. teachers like Barbara Kaufman, physical education department coordinator at Mountain View High School. She said prior to 2009, it was hard to catch students up on activities everyone else in the class had done for months, and she would have to keep track of the five to six students in each period that would vanish during sports seasons.

"It was a mess," Kaufman said.

The requirement for students to opt out and back into sports depending on the season was a major reason for the decision to eliminate the exemption five years ago, according to the district report.

In some ways, the board's decision comes down to whether or not the trustees think P.E. is important enough to require it for all ninth grade students to take it. Groves said board members voted for the requirement in 2009 because they believed P.E. was a valuable subject in and of itself.

Kaufman said it's all too common for people to equate physical activity -- like an after school sport -- with physical education courses. She said P.E. has a standards-based curriculum where students learn about motor control and fitness standards as well as psychological and social concepts. Conversely, she said after-school sports are extra curricular, not co-ed and focused on performance rather than learning.

Los Gatos High School recently made ninth grade P.E. mandatory for all students and deemed it a success, according to the administration report.


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Posted by Kay
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I hated PE, because I had scars, and the school had short shorts as the uniform. As an adult, I regret not building a health habit of exercise. I am thin, but we all need activity to be healthy. I wonder if I was in school sports or such, if activities would come easier to me now. I don't have regular activity I do. (some people's hobby is active, biking, swiming...). Maybe it's time to make PE cool! Yoga, stretching, breathing. Encourage kids to make activity of any kind part of their life. Build healthy habits :)

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Posted by Charlene
a resident of Castro City
on May 15, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Charlene is a registered user.

My 9th grade daughter loves p e even though she's told her BMI is too high and she'll have to take pe again next year if she doesn't pass the state standards. She loves the pool at MVHS. She loves yoga, golf--not so much--but she keeps doing her best. Even running she doesn't mind. I think p e is very important, but maybe tailor it for the kids so they enjoy it a little more. Getting that exercise is important!!!

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Posted by Todays PE
a resident of Cuernavaca
on May 15, 2014 at 3:00 pm


Among other things, PE Today includes things like:

- Nutrition (understanding proteins, carbs, fats, etc)
- Developing/Monitoring personal fitness plans
- Yoga/Tennis/Golf/Swimming/Aerobics

It's different than the old days of a teacher rolling some balls out and collecting them 45 minutes later.

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Posted by @ Charlene
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

If your Freshman is being told her BMI is too high, you better start saving up for counseling. This is classic reason for eating disorders.

Good luck

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Posted by Today's PE
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 15, 2014 at 4:06 pm

But, PE today is still not as cool as it sounds. My 9th grader did not like it at all. She loved Yoga, because she was told to stretch & rest. Don't worry if you fall asleep because it means you are resting your body. She napped through yoga.

Swimming is great unless you have a daughter who has any body concerns. My daughter does not, but there was still anxiety due to who would wear a bikini, and who would wear a 1 piece. And, all the girls were nervous during 1 week of the month of PE.

Personal fitness plans where they track your BMI, etc. is really a bad idea in High School when anxiety about your body is so high. Many young girls get eating disorders in High School for those reasons.

They teach Nutrition in Health class (better than in PE from what I hear)and every student must take that class. A sport does gives you a healthy way of learning life-long exercising.

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Posted by Rich
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 15, 2014 at 4:14 pm

My recent-graduate son had to take 2 years of P.E. (one with Kaufman). He said it was a waste of time, with more time spent arguing with students about things like dressing out or texting during class than teaching, and that the teaching was at best a painfully slow reiteration of what he had already learned at him, with his scout troop, and in the marching band (which was far more attuned to physical needs than the P.E. class).

Clearly P.E. can be good for some kids, but a waste of time for others. So, establish a test (of both mind and body). If students already know the material, don't force them to take a useless class.

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Posted by Concerned
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 15, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Maybe the problem is that kids these days are expected to take electives and do lots if out if school activities in order to get into a good school. I see how little time friends' children have to actually be children and am saddened. Kids should be allowed to be kids while they still can.

Charlene, I am appalled that your daughter has been told her BMI is too high and might have to take PE again. I realize we have an obesity epidemic, but this seems like a great way to encourage eating disorders which can be incredibly damaging to health. However, I do think that ALL kids should do PE for the very reason we do have a problem wirh obesity, though it does need to focus on things like how to incorporate exercise into everyday life, rather the type of PE I suffered through 20 years ago.

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Posted by Charlene
a resident of Castro City
on May 16, 2014 at 12:30 am

Thanks for the concern. My daughter was told by the pe teacher if her BMI is too high she can't pass. Hmmm, she's participated in this class pretty well, dealing with issues she tries not to bring with her into pe. Shes incredibly strong, physically and emotionally. I'm encouraged by her positive attitude to want to do well and put forth her best effort. I tell her do exercise to feel good, don't worry about anything else!! She knows she doesn't possess a skinny body, but has endurance and strength. I am encouraged by her tenacity to hang in there.

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Posted by Charlene
a resident of Castro City
on May 16, 2014 at 12:49 am

@concerned--I hated pe with a passion. I would run away and, I kid you not, hide during volleyball--my most feared activity--, and cry when I had to do anything that required balance beams. College pe was better. We got to choose what sport/activity we would be graded on. I chose the pool and weights. Lol!! Not really sports, but no one bothered me. I didn't want to pass on my fears to my daughter and I think I succeeded. She laughs when I try to look graceful while dancing or yoga. But, we do things together, and it's fun.

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Posted by Healthy
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 16, 2014 at 5:28 am

I didn't know that BMI had anything to do with passing PE. Of course, if the high BMI student is unwilling to participate in physical exercise, then maybe a failing grade is appropriate? If my child refused to do homework in math and failed the tests, then I would be dismayed if the teacher passed him.

A physically fit high school graduate will have better and more lucrative employment options. That is a fact. While academic studies are very important, so is having a healthy body.

On the other hand, our obsession with organized sports is hurting us. Kids are enamored with becoming modern gladiators and so deprioritize study. Most students do the minimum to get their diploma or degree. A PE class ought to teach the kids how to stay fit, which is so important.

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Posted by Kay
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 16, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Thank you for sharing @today's PE

Thinking about it a bit more. If schools had a set up like a "24hour gym" or "golds gym" it would give some kids the chance to build the habit of working out once a day. Obviously schools lack funds for basics so the dream of a real gym is far away.

Hey 24-Hour and Golds Gym and others.....donate to school gyms = future memembers

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Posted by Derek
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 16, 2014 at 4:31 pm

PE was awesome. I wish there was an AP class offered in PE. I would have gone to college. Thanks a lot, stupid school.

It's okay, I work at a car dealership and I make lots of money. I won. Haha, education.

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Posted by Hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm

How about we worry about the kids education rather than PE?

Oh but then again little Timmy might be a football or wresssling star. Just what we need. Way to go schools.

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Posted by Seriously
a resident of Gemello
on May 21, 2014 at 12:52 pm


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Posted by CPD
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm

In PAUSD, students are required to take 2 years PE. If they are on a sports team, they receive a waiver from PE classes while the sport is in-season. For example, if the student plays women's volleyball, then she is exempted from "regular" PE during the volleyball season. Once the season is over, she returns back to her PE class.


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Posted by MVHS parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on May 21, 2014 at 6:01 pm

@Kay and CPD, have you ever thought of running for school board? We need people like you, with common sense and outside the box solutions.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2014 at 7:07 pm

@MVHS - I think what parents in MV/LA are asking for is for kids to be totally excused from PE so they can take other classes instead, not a "pass" when they are playing a sport. I find that interesting since 2 years of PE is a California grad requirement.

In Palo Alto, I think they let you totally skip PE if you are at a certain level of athlete, I don't remember the exact details but if you are a high level athlete, you can do something called contract PE as early as middle school. Your coach becomes your "teacher" (say you are a competitive gymnast, a sport not offered at school). Independent study for PE.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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