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Schools seek to delay P.E. requirement

Lake Oswego officials are working to be in compliance by fall 2017

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego High Coach Marshall Cho helps Tyler Latta, 11, with his defensive stance at a basketball camp over the summer. Districts across the state are trying to find a way to incorporate more physical education time into their regular schedules during the school year.Oregon public schools have made no progress overall in the past decade toward complying with a legislative mandate to provide a minimum number of weekly physical education minutes to students in grades K-8.

Instead of inching closer to the P.E. standard by the fall 2017 deadline, the total number of schools providing the minimum number of minutes actually has declined, according to public records obtained by the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau.

House Bill 3141, approved by state lawmakers in 2007, made Oregon the first state in the nation to require minimum physical education instructional minutes for elementary and middle school pupils, according to the American Heart Association.

The law calls for a minimum of 150 minutes of P.E. instruction per week for grades K-5 and 225 minutes for grades 6-8. Schools are required to meet that standard by fall 2017, but it is unclear if there are ramifications for noncompliance.

MORELOCKSome school districts are seeking to delay the law, while others say it needs to be updated. For example, Joe Morelock, the Lake Oswego School District’s assistant superintendent for academics and student services, says the required hours have not been adjusted to account for shortened weeks.

Currently, the LOSD does not have any required minutes for any subject, including P.E., Morelock said. But K-5 students in the district do have 60 minutes of P.E. per week, and students in grades 6-8 are required to take one trimester of health and two trimesters of P.E. per year. During five-day weeks, middle schoolers will meet the state requirements, Morelock said, but only in five-day weeks when they are taking P.E. and not health.

“We have yet to determine what we will do in order to create P.E. sections for the health trimester and what we will cut in order to do so,” Morelock said. “We also do not know what we will do for shortened weeks, for which the Legislature has not made any time-requirement adjustments.”

Still, the district is making strides toward meeting the state requirements, he noted. In 2015-16, the district shifted from part-time to full-time P.E. teachers at all six elementary schools. But there’s more to be done, Morelock said.

“That level of staffing will not be enough to meet the required minimum minutes as required by House Bill 3141 in 2017-18,” he said.

LOSD is not in a unique situation. Most schools are so far from fulfilling the P.E. requirement that their advocacy groups are asking lawmakers to either push back the deadline or allow for a phase-in. They also want other tweaks to the law, such as prorating the standard to account for professional development days and inclement weather, and to add more flexibility in how physical education may be defined.

“Everybody recognizes the pinch we find ourselves in,” said Jim Green, deputy executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. “There are not enough P.E. teachers. Some of the facilities are inadequate in order to be able to provide that level of instruction, and it’s going to take a lot to ramp up to that.”

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jake Khawaja, then a Lake Oswego Junior High sixth-grader, makes a tough shot while learning to play badminton during a P.E. class in the Uplands Elementary School building in 2013. While the building no longer operates as a school, it still offers space for some school programs.Out of 1,080 public schools with some or all grades in K-8, only 97 schools in 2014-15 provided the minimum number of weekly minutes outlined in HB 3141, according to the Oregon Department of Education’s most recent count. That’s a decline from the 102 schools in 2013-14 that met the minimum.

In Portland Public Schools, most schools have not yet complied with the upcoming requirements, but a few, such as Lee Elementary School and George Middle School, exceeded the minimum in 2014-15.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, championed the law in 2007 as a way to address childhood obesity and boost students’ academic skills. Along with the minimum instructional time, the bill offered schools special grants, known as PEEK-8, or Physical Education Expansion K-8, to help hire P.E. teachers or give existing teachers professional development in physical education. The grants provided about $4 million to schools in the past four years.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Its easy for Lake Oswego students like Kennedy Warme to stay active during the summer, thanks to Community School and other programs. But districts are having a tough time meeting state-mandated requirements for physical education time during the regular school year. “I started this some 10 years ago because physical education had disappeared from our schools,” Courtney said. “I understand resources are an issue, and every school is different. I just hope that together we can find a way to continue to move forward.”

Courtney said he is unwilling to compromise on the required number of minutes, but could consider a phased-in approach to meeting the standard.

He and his staff met with lobbyists representing schools and health groups in August to discuss concerns about the law.

Schools’ concerns about the requirement center on three issues: the cost of hiring additional P.E. teachers, building new space and the limited amount of instructional time in the school day, Green said. Schools faced funding rollbacks during the Great Recession, and subsequent funding increases have not been enough to keep up with expenses, Green said.

The Pendleton School District recently built two elementary schools that replaced schools that used the same space for the cafeteria and gymnasium. School administrators had to use creative scheduling, including lunch periods staggered by grade level, to accommodate lunch and biweekly physical education classes. The new schools, Washington and Sherwood elementary schools, have separate gymnasiums and cafeterias, which will make it easier to schedule additional P.E. classes, said Ronda Smith, a Pendleton principal who used to work at Washington Elementary School.

But school administrators said they also struggle to find time for the requirement in Oregon’s limited school year, one of the shortest in the nation.

If schools have to provide more physical education instruction, other subjects lose time, they said. None of those other subjects have a mandatory minimum of instructional time.

“The larger issue is we have so many hours in the school year that we can use, and we keep having different sets of expectations put on us,” said Pendleton schools Superintendent Andy Kovach. “You add up the hours they’re expecting of us, and where do you cut it out?”

Christina Bodamer, an Oregon-based lobbyist for the American Heart Association, which pushed for the law in 2007, said she understands the schools’ dilemma but thinks the mandate needs to be a priority.

“Knowing there has been 10 years to implement this, I think an important part of a phase-in is accountability, so we don’t go another three to five years and have nothing else happen,” Bodamer said.

Several bodies of research suggest that physical activity can hone academic skills such as concentration, and even enhance overall academic performance, according to a review of research in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That research has given momentum to the idea of requiring minimum instructional time in physical education, she said. Washington, D.C., has a policy similar to Oregon’s, and Washington and California are considering following suit, Bodamer said.

Apart from state grants, several health organizations also have been dedicating grant money to help schools come up with creative solutions to meet the requirement, she said.

Salem-Keizer and Beaverton school districts have been partnering with the American Heart Association to obtain more professional development for P.E. teachers, including how to incorporate physical activity within other lessons.

“It is our hope that P.E. teachers could work with some of the regular teachers on ideas for brain breaks and structured play between lessons,” said Neil Anderson, director of instructional services at Salem-Keizer schools.

Meeting the standard “would be a challenge, but I think we could figure it out,” said Smith of Pendleton schools. “If you can find five minutes six times a day and say let’s put those minutes all together in one area, you have another section.”

Reporter Jillian Daley contributed to this story. Contact Paris Achen at 503-385-4899 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..