Maryland bill would require 90 minutes per week of physical education in schools

Maryland bill would require 90 minutes per week of physical education in schools (ABC7)

Ruthie Hoang’s squeals of delight echoed across Fallsgrove Park playground, as she zoomed down the spiral slide, again and again.

“It’s very important,” Ruthie’s mother Anne said, smiling, as she watched her daughter. “Children learn best through play, especially at a young age.”

Hoang, who home-schools the eight-year-old, says she tries to take a half-hour to hour recess breaks every day.

“When we were growing up, that's all we did is play outside,” Hoang said. “That's all we had, you know? There are so many more options, but I think coordinating that into the school day is very important.”

There’s no argument on that from Prince George’s County Del. Jay Walker.

The former Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots quarterback, now a Maryland state lawmaker, is sponsoring a bill mandating 90 minutes of physical education per week for public school students.

“We're blaming the kids for being more obese, but look what we've done,” Walker said. “We've taken away activities, sports.”

Walker’s bill, called the "Student Health and Fitness Act," (HB 393) would also require an additional 60 minutes a week of recess for elementary students.

The Prince George’s Democrat has tried – and failed – to get the bill passed every year since 2010.

He echoes a Centers for Disease Control report which says that one out of every five American children is considered obese.

“Montgomery County teachers have said it's a shame kids are coming out of elementary school and they can't run one lap around the track,” Walker said. “This could become a crisis situation and let's do the right thing by the kids, they deserve it.”

Montgomery County Public Schools , Maryland’s largest school district with 162,000 students, now requires between 30 and 60 minutes of physical education a week – the shortest amount of time allotted for P.E. by any school district in the state.

But MCPS officials aren’t happy with the expansion idea.

They say adding increased time for physical education should be up to local jurisdictions, not the state.

An MCPS spokesperson says the district would be forced to hire 100+ physical education teachers, costing millions of dollars, while forcing cuts in other programs.

“It’s certainly a burden on us if we are faced with an additional $10 million we have to come up with, to meet the standards of the new bill,” District Spokesperson Derek Turner said.

He adds Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is asking MCPS officials to cut $25 million from their annual budget.

“With the variety of things that we're asked to provide our students, from world language to the arts, to physical education, we have to prioritize and do the best we can in all those buckets,” Turner said.

Meanwhile, the district is launching what it calls a “new health curriculum.”

The plan includes more physical activities during recess and gym classes and encouraging parents to try to do the same during off-school hours.

“There's more than 50 minutes of time for physical education (during school hours),” Turner said. “Between that and recess, we're really thinking that we can help serve students and make sure they're active and healthy.”

Pediatrician Gene Sussman, a grandfather who’s had three children who’ve graduated from MCPS, says something needs to be done.

“We are in an era of obesity, children are not getting exercise at home,” he said.

Sussman says youngsters are being forced to cram more and more activities in their lives; at the same time, computers, TV, and smartphones are replacing physical activity.

“We are pushing children, the academics, they're on overload,” he said. “I think we need to strategize even if it means an extra 15 minutes extending the school day.”

The big challenge for Walker is to get the votes he needs to pass the proposal.

Meanwhile, he says, youngsters are paying the price for inaction.

“Some jurisdictions where they're getting one day of physical education in a week, we know that physical activity helps with test-taking skills,” he said. “So what are we doing to our kids?”

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