The Examiner U-46 News Feed
PE waivers continue to be a hot topic in U-46
By Seth Hancock
School District U-46 Board of Education members Phil Costello and Cody Holt held a joint town hall, and the physical education waiver policy continues to be a hot topic on Monday, Feb. 29 at the Bartlett Public Library.
At the Monday, Feb. 22 board meeting, an overflow crowd of Bartlett High School students and parents addressed a decision by their school’s administration to grant only two PE waivers. Most of the students said they are part of the academy with packed schedules and needed the waiver to take an elective required for admittance to the college of their choice, one of the reasons a waiver can be given under the Illinois State Code.
At the town hall, more came out to express their anger with a lack of communication, one parent saying that Bartlett’s principal told her there’s “no timeframe to get this resolved.”
Although he doesn’t have a student affected by this, Art Pierscionek was at the Feb. 22 board meeting and said at the town hall, that the response by U-46 CEO Tony Sanders doesn’t help.
“Tony Sanders kind of made things worse at the meeting saying it was the state that changed it,” Pierscionek said. “These kids, their lives are in jeopardy with this. And Tony has taken over a week, and there’s still no meeting for these people.”
Sanders interjected during public comments at the Feb. 22 meeting to say that the state law was the problem, but students and parents have said there is no change in the law but rather U-46’s interpretation. The new interpretation, those affected say, was not communicated to the public.
In his Feb. 25 weekly message, Sanders wrote that he has contacted surrounding districts and a “waiver for academic classes needed for college admission is rare.” Some of those affected have said they contacted surrounding districts that told them the opposite.
Sanders wrote that there are meetings scheduled and “after we have clearly articulated our process to the community, I will also establish a PE waiver appeals committee as an avenue for students whose PE waivers were denied at the school level.”
Sanders has said that the results of an audit by the Kane County Regional Office of Education has shown a need to reduce the number of waivers granted.
At the town hall, one parent said they contacted the regional office and was told there’s been “miscommunication” on the part of U-46.
Lisa Hopp, who sits on the Citizens’ Advisory Council, took the district’s side and said the burden of receiving that audit information is on those concerned parents and students.
“They can say there was some miscommunication on the phone,” Hopp said. “I mean, I’m just throwing this out there, then FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) it. It should be FOIAable, and if there’s an audit it should say exactly how many over the limit U-46 is giving out every year.”
Holt said at the town hall: “I can definitely understand the frustration. We have to have better communications with our stakeholders…. I have heard that voice from other parents, not just in regards to PE waivers, but for other issues where administration didn’t clearly speak to the parents to let them know what’s going on.”
The entire board was sent questions from The Examiner asking if the district’s response to the issue has been adequate and if those denied a waiver should be given another opportunity to receive one for next year.
“Since the Feb. 22 board meeting and Mr. Sanders’ Feb. 25 memo, the administration has executed a comprehensive plan for an appeals process including some viable options and general communication,” Costello said who added: “However, I do not get a sense that there was ever a cohesive plan to communicate to the students and their parents.”
Costello said some questions that need to be answered include when did the interpretation change and what’s the “communication plan including criteria for acceptance or denials,” have guidance councilors been given “effective direction” in helping students develop a four-year plan and “what are the repercussions of grandfathering” current students into the previous interpretation?
Board member Jeanette Ward responded: “Yes, I do feel that those students who have been denied the waiver should have another chance to receive one. If it were up to me, I would grant them all and let the chips fall where they may.”
The state’s top teacher’s union organization, the Illinois Education Association, pushed the law that requires PE for all students with a select few exemptions for high school students in their junior and senior years.
“The PE law is one example of an Illinois unfunded mandate,” Ward added. “It was/is also supported by the Illinois Education Association. I find it interesting how we have an unfunded mandate supported by the people who are supposed to be benefiting students, with the effect that it actually hurts the highest performing students in their efforts to get into the colleges of their choice. That is really a shame.”
Donna Smith, the board’s president, and Traci Ellis, the vice president, along with members Sue Kerr and Veronica Noland, did not respond to The Examiner’s inquiry.