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U-46 Board supportive of new PE waiver plan

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 unanimously approved of the district’s plan to seek a waiver from some physical education (P.E.) requirements despite some reservations being addressed on Monday, Aug. 6.
  The district will now need state approval as it seeks to be able to more easily give P.E. waivers to students who ask for it. U-46 hopes to have approval before the 2019-20 school year when it plans to offer more classes at the high school level as the district moves towards the career pathways model.
  The proposal states that the new course options “include classes that fall outside of the 3 permitted exceptions in the statute to be excused from the physical education requirement.”
  “While this is a year away, we are here before you today to remain in compliance with the statutory and (Illinois State Board of Education) timelines as well as to provide our leadership team ample time to prudently build out the district’s plan in the event the waiver is granted,” said Luis Rodriguez, assistant attorney.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said approval was needed that night in order to get the proposal to the General Assembly for its fall legislative session, or it would have to wait until the spring.
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said this would offer more “flexibility” for students in their schedules.
  “We’re seeking to make (P.E.) an elective for 11th and 12th grade students to allow these students an opportunity to enroll in additional or expanded course options that would greatly enhance their readiness for post high school college and career opportunities,” Johnson said.
  Johnson added that the district also wants to be able to offer waivers to some middle school students for “fine art course options or other courses similar to our fine arts options.”
  Tracey Jakaitis, coordinator of student wellness and P.E., said a “positive consequence” of this would be that the district may be able to shift some P.E. staff to the elementary level where she said there is a need for more movement from those students.
  A public hearing was held prior to the vote as seven U-46 P.E. teachers opposed the plan, but one Bartlett High School teacher supported the academic freedom this waiver would provide.
  Opponents of the plan cited research saying that physical activity helps students academically.
  “We cannot say that physical education in schools is important but move backwards…. We cannot allow our district to send the message that these benefits are only important for some if all really means all,” said Shannon Pennington, an instructional coach with the district.
  Paul Pennington, the P.E. division chair at Elgin High School, said: “School students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance and classroom behaviors…. High quality physical education programs can be life changing for today’s young people.”
  However, Bartlett teacher Gary Lorber said research shows the same importance of music education, which has no requirement from the state, and he supported students taking control over their schedules.
  “We are in an opportunity to have as much flexibility for students as we possibly can, and that’s what we should do for our students…. We need to support their choices. We need to support what is good for them.”
  Although the vote was 7-0, some board members shared trepidation including Sue Kerr, Melissa Owens and Donna Smith. Kerr said the district should be “stingy about using” the waivers as to not include offering the waiver for late arrival/early dismissal and that a student should have to drop study hall before P.E.
  “I do favor bringing control of these waivers into the district and not relying on the state to grant those waivers,” Owens said. “Having said that, I really hope that we have some very solid, some very stringent guidelines on how these waivers are parceled out.”
  Owens said the district is focusing on preparing students for employment, but the district also needs to be concerned with the health of students.
  Board member Phil Costello said he saw merits from both sides and he asked that the district provide the measures in which the district will give a waiver within a year “to see how this will play out.”
  Board member Jeanette Ward said it was a “good idea” and noted that previously several students addressed the board upset over not being given a waiver after requesting one. That was in 2016 which included Bartlett swimmer Kayla Filipek who competed with the Hawks’ swim team and trained on her own to compete for a spot on the U.S.A. Olympic team.
  “That would be an excellent example of if the opportunity to waive is expanded then our leadership team has more of an opportunity to consider situations such as that one,” Rodriguez responded.
  Jackson Teetor, the board’s student advisor, said he saw students miss out on classes, including Advanced Placement courses, because of not being given a waiver which he described as “heartbreaking.”
  For Ward, she said she agreed with all the benefits to exercise described by teachers and noted she has competed in the Tough Mudder and also does CrossFit, but she also believed in academic freedom.
  “I love exercise and I fully attest to the benefits…. But students ought to have the freedom to choose it for themselves, and 11th and 12th grade is old enough to allow students the freedom to start making some of those choices for themselves,” Ward said.
  Board member John Deveroux agreed and suggested the care for a child’s health is a family matter.
  “I’m a big supporter of physical activity as well…. When I see my son on the computer all Saturday, 4 o’clock I say ‘get up, we’re going for a bike ride,’” Deveroux said.
  Deveroux said more options for students and their families would benefit them.







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