A bill encouraging more physical education time in Maryland schools cleared a key vote in this year’s legislative session but was killed on the final day.
For a ninth year, lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement about the bill, originally drafted to mandate 90 minutes of physical education time for all Maryland students each week.
The bill was amended in March to reduce the required exercise time from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, and to soften language to say the time guidelines are a “goal” rather than a “mandate.”
The Montgomery school board opposed the bill because it imposed a state mandate with a large associated price tag — more than $11 million — without additional state funds, but when it was amended, the board opted to support the bill if it were changed to include its own amendments, which included dropping the exercise goal to 60 minutes.
The Senate incorporated the school system’s changes into a bill it gave final approval to, but delegates in the House said 60 minutes of physical education was not enough and it did not pass, effectively killing the bill.
“I am appalled with their actions,” local physical education teacher Matt Slatkin said about senators who “watered down” the bill. “They have talked the talk about children’s health and fitness but have not walked the walk and taken action.”
Slatkin, who has been advocating for the bill for several years, said he is disappointed with the outcome because childhood obesity is an “epidemic” that contributes to mental illness.
Montgomery County schools provide an average of 45 minutes a week of physical education, one of the lowest totals in the state.
State estimates show the school system would have needed to add 135 physical education teachers to accommodate the requirements of the bill.
The bill had support from the Maryland Pediatric Society, Maryland State Medical Society, American Heart Association and American Cancer Society.
Nearly 15 percent of Maryland children are overweight and 11 percent are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national childhood obesity rate is 18.5 percent. Children who are obese are more prone to serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the CDC says.
The CDC says children should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day to prevent obesity.
Under the amended bill, school systems would have been required to report how much physical activity is provided for students each year to the state Department of Education and are prohibited from withholding recess as punishment.
Stephen Sugg, a parent advocate who ran unsuccessfully for a position on the school board last year said it’s disappointing the bill failed and the school system’s opposition to the legislation is hostile and negatively impacts students.
He said more physical activity would help close the achievement gap because higher-income families can afford out-of-school activities, putting their children at an advantage over those who cannot and don’t receive adequate activity during their school day.
“MCPS’s hostility to getting our kids moving via PE, recess and even free play for young kids is a stark contrast to national and international trends as educators increasingly understand that increased movement is cost-effective strategy to boost academic achievement and student well-being,” said Sugg, who holds a doctorate in education, in an e-mail. “MCPS’s actions and policies are far more telling than any rhetoric purporting to “support” more movement for our kids.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org