Illinois legislators who aim to put an end to state-mandated gym classes make a straightforward case: The time and money could be better spent on other school pursuits.
As if schools should be all about developing the mind and little more. As if they should not concern themselves with matters of good health and fitness, teamwork and character.
Physical education is more than dodgeball. It’s about teaching young people habits of health and fitness that will serve them well the rest of their lives. The alternative can be a future of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. A flurry of bills in the Legislature to end or weaken the state’s K-12 daily physical education requirement largely do our young people no favors.
A bill sponsored by state Rep. Ronald Sandack, R-Downers Grove, would leave it up to local school districts to decide if and when students should take gym. Sandack says he personally supports physical education, but thinks schools districts, not the state, should make the call.
We couldn’t disagree more. It is the state’s responsibility to set education standards, and physical education is essential to a balanced curriculum. Every major health group in Illinois supports daily physical education and opposes any cuts, said Mark Peysakhovich, spokesman for the American Heart Association.
Another bill would allow students to opt out of P.E. if they are taking two or more AP courses. Why? Don’t those kids don’t need that well-rounded grounding — development of the body, mind and character — as much as the kid who might never go to college?
Yet another bill would allow freshmen and sophomores to skip P.E. if they participate in certain extracurricular activities, such as baseball or marching band, just as juniors and seniors can now. That seems a reasonable trade-off, given the benefits either way.
Schools in Illinois can obtain state waivers that excuse them from offering physical education if they don’t have the money or proper facilities. Some schools, though, have burned through their waivers and, rather than start offering gym, would like to kill the requirement altogether.
Given the need in Illinois to reduce government spending, there is support in Springfield for doing away with unfunded state mandates, of which P.E. is one, to offset funding reductions elsewhere. We see the logic. But the state can’t simply walk away from its responsibility to set out and protect basic educational standards.