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F in PE

Local school districts are failing to meet the state-mandated number of weekly physical education minutes for elementary and middle schools and have less than a year to figure out how to improve.

With the exception of Medford elementary schools and Eagle Point middle schools, local districts are minutes, and in some cases hours, shy of the state’s minimum PE requirement, set in 2007 by House Bill 3147.

The law, designed to reduce childhood obesity, required schools to provide kindergarten- through fifth-grade students with a minimum of 150 PE minutes every week and sixth- through eighth-grade students with a minimum of 225 PE minutes per week.

According to data provided by the Oregon Health Authority, obesity among eighth-graders has increased by more than 50 percent since 2001. And as of 2015, 11.4 percent of eighth-graders were considered obese.

Districts were given until fall 2017 to meet this standard for physical education. However, as of 2014-15, only five districts — St. Paul, Plush, Douglas County, Jewell and Camas Valley school districts — out of 197 districts statewide met the PE requirement in every grade for every week of the year, according to Oregon Department of Education spokeswoman Meg Koch. The 2015-16 data won’t be validated until December 2016.

Phoenix-Talent elementary students currently get between 80 and 90 minutes of PE every week and the middle-school students get about 200 minutes of PE every week — or one 40-minute period of PE every day.

Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Teresa Sayre said the district went above and beyond to hold onto its PE program during the recession and has been able to maintain one PE specialist at every school.

“At the middle school, I think we could make up that additional 25 minutes a week,” Sayre said. “But at the elementary schools, we’re talking an extra 70 minutes a week, and the only way I see we meet that is by structuring recess. I wouldn’t be super excited about doing that, but we could do it. My worry is that we would take away some choice that they currently have at recess.”

“I think if we had Pokemon GO for the kids for the structured recess that would work,” she joked. ”We would have them flying all over the playground.”

The district will begin offering elementary intramural activities this school year, but Sayre said she was not sure whether state education officials would count that time toward PE requirements, because the sports are optional and offered after school.

However, according to the Society of Health and Physical Educators, which helped develop the national physical education standards, PE minutes “must occur during the school contact day.”

"Physical education provides students with a planned, sequential, K-12, standard-based program of curricula and instruction designed to develop motor skills, knowledge and behaviors for active living, physical fitness, sportsmanship, self-efficacy and emotional intelligence,” said the organization's website.

In Ashland, elementary students are getting about 60 minutes of PE per week.

At Ashland Middle School, students get about 50 minutes of PE every other day — 245 minutes over two weeks — during two trimesters of the year and they take health the other trimester, said Karl Carstensen, a PE teacher at the school.

“So an average of 122.5 minutes per week multiplied by .66 (two thirds of the year) comes out to 81 minutes a week,” he calculated.

“Prior to the recession, we were offering about 155 to 160 minutes a week. But as PE and arts are usually the first ones to get cut and the last restored, even though we are post-recession, we haven’t seen the restoration of our programs,” he said.

The middle school lost one full-time PE position during the recession and currently employs one full-time and one part-time PE teacher.

Restoring those lost minutes would require more money, as well as a different schedule, Carstensen said.

“I think it’s in the best interest of kids, for sure,” he added. ”But how do you get there? I don’t know. That’s for the administration to decide.”

Since 2008, the state has allocated $10.6 million toward Physical Education Expansion K-8 (PEEK-8) grants, established by the 2007 Oregon Legislature to bolster PE programs in schools where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

For the last three years and again this year, 10 of Medford’s non-charter elementary schools have received PEEK-8 grants. Kids Unlimited Academy was awarded the grant this year and last year.

Terrie Dahl, Medford’s supervisor of federal programs, said the district has 12 PE teachers serving its 14 non-charter, elementary schools. And the $500,000 grant covers the salaries of 10 of those teachers (one for each qualifying school), while the district covers their benefits.

Jacksonville, Hoover, Lone Pine and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools don’t qualify for the grant and, therefore, share the two PE teachers.

Medford elementary students receive two, 40-minute PE sessions per week — one taught by the school’s PE teacher and the other taught by their classroom teacher. The remaining 70 minutes of PE time each week is made up during morning walks, "active recesses" and other organized activities, said Jeanne Grazioli, director of elementary student achievement, adding that active recesses look a little different from school to school.

“And each school has to find a way to meet those 225 minutes for sixth-graders,” Grazioli said.

Prior to receiving the grant, Medford elementary students got only one 40-minute session of PE each week from a classroom teacher, she said.

“We hear a lot of questions about what happens when the grant goes away,” Dahl said. “The district is committed to physical education, and we want to keep it as long as we can fund it. It’s a year-to-year decision and something the board, budget committee and district staff have to grapple with.

“We’re trying to develop healthy lifestyles that will stay with these kids throughout their lives,” she said.

Students at McLoughlin Middle School get 237 minutes of PE each week for three quarters, or an average of 178 minutes per week over the course of the year, and those at Hedrick Middle School get 251 minutes each week for three quarters, or an average 188 minutes per week over the course of the year, said Amy Tiger, the district’s athletic director.

In Eagle Point, the middle school is compliant with HB 3141. However, PE minutes vary from school to school at the elementary level, ranging from 30 to 100 minutes per week, said Tiffanie Lambert, the district’s director of school improvement.

“But we will be in full compliance by next school year,” she said, adding that they’ll probably have to change the elementary schedules to accommodate the additional time.

In Central Point, the number of PE minutes also varies from school to school. At Scenic Middle School, most sixth-graders get 291 minutes of PE per week, while seventh- and eighth-graders get 291 minutes per week for one trimester. At Hanby Middle School, sixth- through eighth-graders get 51 minutes of PE each week.

Patrick Elementary students get two 30-minute periods of PE per week. Mae Richardson Elementary students get 30 minutes of PE once a week and 20 to 25 minutes of intramurals/structured recess once a day for a total of about 155 minutes per week. Jewett Elementary students get 30 minutes of PE per day — 150 minutes per week — during intramural rotations after lunch. Central Point Elementary kindergartners get 30 minutes of PE, first- through third-graders get 60 minutes of PE, and fourth- and fifth-graders get 210 minutes of PE per week.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Students Boroka Marton, left, Zach Haldane and Eryl Kenner run the track at Ashland Middle School in this file photo. Other than Medford, local schools offer kids too few minutes of exercise each week.