Teachers protest bill that would let schools skip gym class
A flood of physical education teachers, some holding clipboards and wearing sneakers, flooded a state hearing Wednesday to argue schools shouldn't be allowed to get rid of gym class.
State Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican, wants to leave it to local school districts to decide whether students need to exercise, stripping away the state law that requires it.
He argues local officials know best whether that time could be better used for more traditional classroom work.
Jason Cowan, who teaches PE to kids up to fifth grade in West Aurora, saw it differently.
"In my building, students run to my room. It's the best 25 minutes twice a week that they're going to get," Cowan said. "It's our job to keep them excited to be a lifelong person of activity."
Sandack threw the ball back into their court, saying he isn't out to slash PE. Instead, he says his proposal gives the freedom to school districts to decide on a PE curriculum that works for them.
He argues the state requiring PE class isn't necessarily making kids healthier, pointing to statistics that show Illinoisans as more obese than some neighboring states known for their cheese and beer.
"Wisconsin is in better physical condition than us, think on that for a minute," Sandack said.
Deb Vogel, a former gym teacher in Roselle, says undercutting the statewide PE requirement and giving more freedom to school districts is troublesome.
"You're telling me you're going to let a school board or parents decide every year how much PE and English and math you're going to have? School boards have agendas, depending on who's on the board," Vogel, member of an effort called Fitness Illinois.
Throughout Wednesday's discussion, activities like show choir and band were raised as alternatives to PE. Some high school students can get out of gym class for participating in band, but not for show choir.
"You're not going to convince me that show choir is physical education," Vogel said. "The aerobic component I get, but that's one small piece of one standard, that's not physical education."
The current PE mandate, Sandack says, makes it difficult for school leaders to schedule music, band and fine arts classes.
"It takes a lot of flexibility out of the school day," Sandack said.
A vote on the plan could come next week.