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Illinois legislature mulling bill to increase physical education in high schools

Illinois currently requires schools to offer gym class at least three days a week.
Youth exercise gym PE class image from ThinkStock

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Illinois News Network) — Illinois schools are already required to offer gym class, but a new plan at the statehouse could force schools to take time away from other classes to make sure students offer enough physical education.

Illinois currently requires schools to offer gym class at least three days a week.

State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, wants to change that to 150 minutes a week, no matter what.

“We understand the impact of physical activity on a child’s ability to learn and retain information,” Holmes said on the Illinois Senate floor last week. “We also understand that [the obesity] crisis is a nationwide problem.”

A handful of lawmakers, including state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Plainfield, said no other subject in Illinois schools has a mandate down to the minute.

And, Bertino-Tarrant said, Illinois schools would have to hit the 150-minute mark, every week, under Holmes’ measure.

“If we have a shortened school week, then some other class is going to have to reschedule somehow to make sure P.E. has their 150 minutes,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “We may have to take away 10 minutes from math every week, or 10 minutes away from English every week.”

The Illinois State Board of Education’s State Report Card shows nearly two-thirds of students in the state can’t read or write at grade level.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said mandates, by their very definition, take away a local school’s flexibility to teach.

“Only in the Capitol building would we suggest that we are giving schools more flexibility by telling them how many minutes their kids have to do P.E.,” Righter said.

Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said that a 150-minute physical education requirement would dismantle last year’s education funding reform plan before it ever got a chance to make a difference for local schools.

““The rigid time requirement, 150 minutes, will be totally inflexible for school districts in scheduling classes,” Schwarm said. “Especially if they are on some kind of block schedule of classes.”