The county school board said Tuesday it will oppose state legislation requiring more physical education time for students.
Every year for nearly a decade, legislators have introduced bills that would more than double the amount of physical education Montgomery County elementary students receive to 150 minutes per week. At least 90 minutes would have to be in a physical-education class.
Each year, the school board has opposed the legislation, citing the nearly $12 million price tag it would take to meet the standard, but signaled it would consider increasing requirements on its own, without state mandates.
“One of the absolute planks in our legislative platform is the state legislature should not dictate education policy,” District 3 board member Pat O’Neill said. “I’m sympathetic and I think it’s a big issue, but we just struggled to finalize our operating budget, and we have a lot of things we need to accomplish.”
All eight school board members voiced support for more physical activity for students, but remained firm in their positions that local government control is essential and an increase in state mandates without an increase in state budget funds is unreasonable.
At-large board member Jeanette Dixon and student board member Ananya Tadikonda voted to support the legislation provided the state would send more funding to the county.
“This is a huge burden, and if money was coming with this, we’d jump on it right away, but unfortunately, that’s not the reality,” Tadikonda said. “We are just stretched too thin.”
School board members they intend to continue exploring options to increase physical education and recess time at a lower cost.
“I really do think it’s a health issue … and I think it’s really important we get kids moving,” Dixon said. “I’m concerned I never see kids outside playing anymore, unless they’re playing basketball or something like that.”
A handful of people urged the board to support the legislation during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying it would increase students’ focus and engagement during class and decrease the occurrence of childhood obesity, a condition that contributes to lifelong health issues such as diabetes and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A vote for this bill shows that you understand that we are in the midst of an obesity, sedentary, low-fitness level crisis,” said Matt Slatkin, a Kensington physical education teacher who has been advocating for the bill for several years.
Jesse Simpson, a consulting teacher in the office of human resources and development, said he has seen students who are unable to focus due to a lack of activity throughout the day.
“Recess is a period of the school day set aside for the physical, social, and cognitive pursuits that can’t otherwise be achieved in the sit-down environment that is an elementary school classroom,” Simpson said. “I believe that increasing the amount of free play for elementary school students is of vital importance in effectively educating the next generation of MCPS students.”