Students in competitive marching band or ROTC in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 can be exempt from physical education classes starting next year, the school board decided on Thursday, despite vocal opposition from parents, teachers and union representatives.
The change was approved as part of the academic handbook and curriculum changes for the 2013-14 school year. The gym waivers follow state school code, which allows certain groups of students to replace physical education with a study hall.
Varsity athletes in 11th or 12th grade were already allowed to be exempt, as were students who needed to take a certain class to graduate.
At a crowded school board meeting on Thursday, several people spoke out against the change before board members approved it unanimously.
Superintendent Dave Schuler said he had met with Education Association President Jim Arey the day before to discuss the union's concerns.
Board members assured the crowd that the change was not a budget move. Schuler said he is committed to keeping the same number of full-time equivalent positions at each school, but those jobs don't necessarily have to be physical education teachers, meaning that if a large number of students begin opting out of gym, jobs could shift.
Union President Jim Arey said that while the district has the right to implement a measure that is allowed by school code, the union wanted to include the word "ongoing" in the handbook. Arey said this would prevent situations where a sport or activity ends in early fall and that student continues to be exempt from gym though January. The "ongoing" requirement was not added to the measure, but students will have the choice to opt back into physical education once their activity ends.
Buffalo Grove High School is the only District 214 school where marching band is not considered competitive, so those students will not be able to waive P.E.
Only one parent spoke up in support of the waiver: Anne Ziegenhorn, who said her sophomore son is in the marching band at Hersey High School as well as on the cross country team.
"I didn't fully appreciate the demands of marching band until I became a band parent," Ziegenhorn said, describing the heavy drums and quick-paced routines.
Board members had said part of the reason for the waiver is to give marching band students additional time to get their homework done. Band practices can take up as much time or more than some sports.
"One time he asked me what was more important: getting homework done or getting his sleep. He stayed up and got his homework done," Ziegenhorn said.
Parent Jim Lezarski of Mount Prospect disagreed with that line of reasoning, however, saying those students may be over-scheduled or not managing their time well.
"Then you could have kids in multiple clubs that want an exemption also, and I think that's wrong," he said.
Allison Neswold, an expert from the American Heart Association, spoke about the realities of childhood obesity and importance of physical education.
One in every six people between ages 6 and 19 is considered obese, Neswold said.
Paul Zientarski, learning readiness PE coordinator at Naperville Community School District 203, has done studies on physical education that showed that exercise enhances learning.
"There is no research that shows that more seat time enhances learning," he said, adding that students are often very unproductive during study hall periods.
"It doesn't matter whether you graduate or if you are the valedictorian at your school, because if you die at age 40 of heart disease, what is the value of your education?" Zientarski said.