School board to consider revising PE waiver procedure

Many Lake Oswego students pursue after-school athletic activities — some of which are so intense parents appeal to school district officials to permit a child to spend less time in PE VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego Junior High PE teacher Susan Alvarez teaches a group of sixth-graders how to serve in badminton.

District officials take each waiver of physical education credit to the school board for approval, but that could change. The board discussed at a recent meeting creating more specific criteria for PE waiver requests and allowing district administration to OK requests based on the board’s criteria. No formal action has been taken yet, and the issue is under review.

School districts must require a certain amount of physical education for kindergarten to eighth-grade students by state law, and so it’s only in special cases that waivers are permitted.

PE credit waivers include a note from a parent and a doctor asking for the child to be excused from gym class. From October 2012 to October 2013, many of those who requested PE waivers were gymnasts or dancers who work out more than 10 hours a week and want more time to do homework and to recover physically. Usually, the school board approves such requests, but at an Oct. 8 meeting, board members denied an eighth-grader’s request, a decision that is changing procedure for PE exemptions.

Board member John Wendland said the doctor’s note with the request was too vague, and such notes should specifically state that a child could suffer physical harm from physical overextension from doing PE along with competitive athletic activities. The doctor submitted another note later that met those specifications, but the discussion sparked change.

Wendland said he thinks it’s good if students exercise outside of school, but so many local students do that they should be able to point to a specific medical reason for a waiver.

The board in June granted a PE exemption to Rebekah Smith’s son, an eighth-grader at Lakeridge Junior High, as a gymnast who twice won the Junior Olympic regional competition.

The letter the Smiths submitted to the board specifically stated that the exemption was for their son’s health. His intense training strains his muscles, and he needs the recovery time.

“If a child needs to opt out of PE for health reasons to keep their body safe, and they are getting the kind of physical activity to be healthy then it would make sense for that option to be available to them,” Rebekah Smith said.

Superintendent Bill Korach said PE waiver requests have been coming for 27 years.

“Different boards have put a different lens on it, so I think the thing that is important here is that you get some consistency with the lens that you use,” Korach said.

Doctors’ and parents’ notes since that meeting have been left out of the board packet with a request.

Korach said staff would no longer need to bring the requests to the board at all “if the board provides the administration with the authority to make decisions in a particular frame of reference.”

Administrative decisions still could be appealed to the board.

Wendland said if parents “want to get their student out, they need to follow the letter of the law, just like if they don’t have their physical ... they don’t get to play” a sport.

The governor in 2007 signed a bill requiring kindergarten to fifth-grade students to get at least 150 minutes of physical education per week and sixth- to eighth-graders to get at least 225 minutes per week. The House bill offered reasons for the law, stating that 28 percent of Oregon eighth-graders and 21 percent of 11th-graders were overweight. All schools must be in compliance with the law by the 2017-18 school year.

“Whether it’s physical education or any other course, we would expect any students to participate in the state-mandated curriculum,” Secondary Education Director Donna Atherton said.

Atherton said the school district takes PE waivers seriously, which is why each request is carefully screened.

Students learn a great deal in an individual sport, but it should not be his or her only physical activity, said Luke Lopez, who has coached sports at the junior-high and high-school levels and is a seventh- and eighth-grade PE and health teacher at Lake Oswego Junior High School.

“Sports miss a lot when it pertains to teaching the whole child in physical education,” Lopez said. “Sports do not teach a well-rounded lifelong fitness program, various lifetime activities, skills for those activities and confidence in a variety of skills for a wide range of physical fitness.”

LOJHS sixth-grade PE teacher Susan Alvarez agreed, saying the more such skills a child has, the more likely that child will become an active adult.

“The adult who didn’t master throwing is not likely to sign up for the neighborhood softball team,” Alvarez said. “Never swung a racket? One might hesitate to play badminton at the church picnic — both social and physical opportunities lost.”

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @JillianDaley.

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