Questions arise following confusion over RPS physical education requirement

Students, parents confused over RPS physical education requirement

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Three weeks into the new school year, there’s confusion at Richmond Public Schools over some eighth grade students possibly not meeting the state requirement for physical education.

Eighth-graders who don’t take a physical education class in school must do 150 minutes a week of outside activity. But parents said this is the first they’re hearing of that requirement.

Other parents said they were concerned their student would have to drop an elective course in order to fit in a physical education course, if they could not complete an outside activity.

Last week, some eighth-graders received either automated phone calls or letters home saying they weren’t meeting the state requirement for physical education since they were not taking P.E. as an in-school course. Administrators said those students had to find an activity equaling 150 minutes a week, and document it to fulfill the criteria.

“I see a lot of other parents scrambling,” Albert Hill Middle School parent Emily Kavanaugh said. “They weren’t sure of what was required.”

Kavanaugh said parents had not been told of this activity requirement previously, and questions were quickly swirling.

RPS administrators say eighth-graders do not have to take physical education in class, even though RPS must offer it. Instead, eighth-graders can meet the 150-minute physical activity requirement if they play an after-school sport or take certain electives, like a dance course.

If a student participates in a private activity like a karate lesson, that also counts. According to the Department of Education’s policy, walking or even biking to school can count towards the physical education requirement.

Sixth- and seventh-graders are required by the state to take in-school physical education. High schoolers also have in-school physical education requirements.

But eighth grade is allowed some leeway by the state when it comes to gym class. However, the Virginia Department of Education says most districts still require physical education to be taken in school, for eighth grade.

“(This) should have come out in the spring when the students are selecting their courses for the fall,” Richmond School Board member Kenya Gibson said. Gibson said she warned the administration a year ago about the requirement.

Gibson said those students who don’t have the transportation or money for an after school activity, will be more likely to take physical education as a course. That would eliminate one of that student’s other elective options, like taking a world language, which can make the student more competitive.

“This is not just an access issue," Gibson said. “It’s an equity issue.”

Gibson believes RPS should require gym class as an in-school course, like most other districts throughout the state.

Kavanaugh wants her daughter takes as many high school credit courses in eighth grade as possible.

“These kids (eighth-graders) are applying to Maggie Walker Governor’s School and Appomattox Regional Governor’s school this year for high school and things like that. And these rigorous classes count on the application,” Kavanaugh said.

RPS administrators say ultimately, students can do activities, like riding a bike around their neighborhood, that won’t cost anything. Parents just need to sign a form.

Administrators also agree there should have been better communication on the issue, but say the situation is part of a larger effort to get middle school curriculum on track.

“I think this situation has been handled like most situations at RPS are handled, where small pieces of information are disseminated and then the parents are having to get together on Facebook groups (and say), ‘Hey who knows what information about this?’” Kavanaugh said.

RPS administrators said they are considering extending the middle school day to allow for more in-school courses.

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