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Mass. Board Mulls Proposal To Ax PE Requirement

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Springfield, Mass.

Over strong objections from teachers, Massachusetts is pushing ahead with a plan to eliminate its requirement that students spend a specific amount of time each year in physical education classes.

The state requires 60 hours of physical education per year for students in grades 1-10 and 30 hours for kindergartners. At a meeting here last week, the state school board gave preliminary approval to Commissioner of Education Robert V. Antonucci's proposal to repeal those regulations.

The board has set a 60-day period to allow for public comment before making a decision.

"To consider such action is a blasphemy against the children of this state," Mimi Murray, a professor of physical education at Springfield College, told the board last week. "Children need physical education."

All but a handful of states require schools to offer physical education, but the states vary on whether they mandate a minimum amount of time.

In Massachusetts, repealing the regulations would let stand a state law that requires an unspecified amount of physical education in all grades.

Cutbacks Foreseen

Noting that physical education "is the only subject area in which the board requires a particular number of hours of instruction," Mr. Antonucci argued that the rules needlessly intrude on school districts' autonomy.

"Physical education is important and it should be taught in schools," the commissioner said last week. "But in my opinion, it should be left to local schools."

Leaders of the state's teachers' unions and physical education advocates predicted that granting the leeway would prompt many districts to scale back programs to save money in much the way they have cut art and music programs.

"Fitness programs will disappear," said Andrew Hescheles, the advocacy chairman for the Massachusetts Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

That, he said, would exacerbate childhood obesity and all the health risks it engenders. And Mr. Hescheles and others argued that efforts to free time for academics by cutting back on physical education were counterproductive.

Judith C. Young, the executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education in Reston, Va., said Massachusetts' time requirements fall far short of the 30 minutes per day the organization recommends.

But she said repealing the requirement could give parents and teachers a useful opening. "This is an opportunity to make a case community by community for why it's important to have a healthy lifestyle."

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