Virginia lawmakers approve increased physical activity minutes for public elementary and middle school students

Citing the “tremendous downstream consequences” of childhood obesity, Virginia lawmakers voted Tuesday to require that all children in public elementary and middle schools participate in at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, reports the Washington Post.  But some school district officials oppose the looming requirement – to be implemented in 2014 – saying it could extend the school day, lead to cuts in arts and music classes, or increase costs because additional teachers would be needed.

The change would be most significant in kindergarten through fifth grade, where experts estimate that fewer than 10 percent of schools in Virginia meet the standard. “Schools can’t be expected to solve all of society’s problems,” said Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale, who lobbied against the legislation.

Both Michelle Obama and Virginia’s first lady, Maureen McDonnell, have made getting children to eat healthier and exercise more a top priority.

Virginia’s House and Senate approved similar bills, neither of which allows recess to be included in the 150 minutes. A spokesman for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said he would review the legislation before deciding whether to sign it into law.

The Virginia Education Association opposes the measure but supports the goal to provide more physical activity for children. Robley S. Jones, the VEA’s director of government affairs, said schools’ budgets have been cut by 15 percent since 2008 and are being asked to do more. He said that if the state wants to implement the program correctly, it should provide districts with money for additional teachers or facilities. “There is a cost to this,” he said.

Liz Payne, Fairfax’s coordinator for health and physical education, said this year’s legislation will mean elementary students will have to more than double their physical activity. But, she said, it will not affect middle schools, where students take more than 150 minutes of physical education a week.

Thirty-one percent of Virginians ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, according to a 2007 survey conducted by KidsCounts.org. Extra pounds lead to a greater risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol.

“Some people think it’s maybe a little too much to ask the schools to do what this bill suggests,” said Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax). “But I think that because way too many of our kids are overweight, we have an obesity problem that way overwhelms any problems the bill causes. I think parents need a little help.”

Source:  Washington Post, 2/1/11, By Anita Kumar

[Editor's note: In November 2010, a California appellate court ruled that a student had a mandamus cause of action under a provision in the state’s education code that requires school districts to provide students in grades 1-6 with a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education each 10 school days. It concluded that the physical education provision imposed a mandatory duty on school districts to provide at least the minimum amount of physical education instruction spelled out in the statute, and that the student could resort to bringing a writ of mandate to enforce the provision.  A summary of the court's decision is at the first link below.

NSBA, through its School Health Programs Department, is one of several strategic partners in a new initiative called "Let's Move in School," which is hosted by the American Alliance for Health Physical Education Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) and its National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE).  For additional information, follow the second and third links below.]

NSBA Legal Clips archive on Doe v. Albany Unified Sch. Dist.

NSBA School Health page on “Let’s Move in School”

NSBA’s School Health Programs page

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