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Cooperman Seeking To Salvage Bill To Scrap Physical-Education Rule

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Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman of New Jersey last week approached key state legislators to discuss amending a controversial proposal to eliminate physical-education requirements in high schools.

Mr. Cooperman invited the chairmen of the General Assembly's education committees, Assemblyman Joseph A. Palaia and Senator Matthew Feldman, to his office to discuss the possibility of asking sponsors of the legislation to "modify" the plan, according to a spokesman for the commissioner.

The legislation, introduced in February, would eliminate a statewide requirement that all students take four years of gym classes.

Both Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who introduced the proposal in his State of the State Address this year, and Mr. Cooperman have argued that freeing students from gym requirements would enable them to take more academic courses. They have tied the proposal broadly to U.S. needs to boost academic rigor as a way of boosting economic competitiveness.

Gym would remain as an elective under the plan, and students would be required to take periodical fitness tests.

But the citizenry has apparently not been convinced of the urgency of the change.

The measure has come under heavy criticism from state lawmakers and from physical-fitness advocates, including some professional athletes, such as the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski.

Last month, Assemblyman Edward H. Salmon held a press conference in Trenton to proclaim the bill "dead in the water." He displayed a pile of petitions signed by citizens opposing it.

Both Mr. Palaia and Mr. Feldman have also voiced their disapproval of the measure in its present form.

But last week Mr. Palaia said he and Mr. Feldman would be open to an amended version of the plan, as long as public hearings were held on the issue. Mr. Feldman could not be reached for comment.

Although specific amendments have not been worked out, Mr. Palaia said that a legitimate compromise might include eliminating only some of the gym requirements.

Only New Jersey and Illinois require four years of physical-education courses.

The bill is salvageable, Mr. Palaia said, but "it needs a lot of work."

"The key is to get it back on the table," the committee chairman added. "If it isn't changed, it won't pass the way it is."

Mr. Palaia said that the Governor "got off on the wrong foot" with the proposal because he did not "contact people who could carry the ball early on."

Senator John H. Ewing, who sponsored the senate version of the bill, had not yet heard from Mr. Cooperman as of late last week.

But he said he would consider amending the bill, depending on what was proposed. "Something might be better than nothing," hesaid.

Carl Golden, a spokesman for Mr. Kean, said the Governor was also "open to discussion'' on the matter.--lj

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