Parents of several incoming ninth-graders are on a mission to secure exemptions for their student-athletes from the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District’s mandatory Physical Education course.
Supporters of the exemption packed the board of trustees meeting last week, requesting that the district adhere to a specific education code that would exempt their children from PE.
Parent Courtney Kramer, whose son is enrolled at Mountain View High next year, said her son would have to forgo his foreign language requirement because of the mandatory PE course, despite the fact that he plans on playing sports across three seasons.
“I feel he will be better served by taking a foreign language course that a college will require as opposed to PE, a course colleges do not require,” she said.
Incoming student Zack Moore shared with trustees his love for music and sports and implored them to allow him the opportunity to continue taking music while remaining a “fit and healthy” athlete.
Parents explained that forcing their student-athletes to take PE as one of their two electives prevents them from enrolling in other courses.
Board President Joe Mitchner said that when his children were freshmen, they were able to take two electives, they just had to take a zero period, which begins at 7:15 a.m.
Parent Doug Moore replied that student-athletes enrolling in a zero period on top of their school sports would keep them at school until 6 p.m., leaving little time for homework and killing the “possibility of any other downtime.”
“It would not be my choice as a parent at all,” Moore said. “There is no way I would recommend using a zero period to try and fit two electives into their schedule, because one of their electives is blocked because of ninth-grade PE. That doesn’t make any sense for my family.”
The board could not discuss the matter at the board meeting, because it was not an official agenda item. After having unsuccessfully tried to add the item to the agenda, parents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Trustee Debbie Torok directed staff to place the item on a future agenda.
California education code requires that high school students take a minimum of two PE courses, unless otherwise exempted.
According to district Superintendent Barry Groves, PE is required for all ninth-graders. Upon passage of a fitness test, students may choose to be exempt from taking PE in grades 10-12.
The education code parents cited in their arguments – EC 51242 – states that a school board can “exempt any four-year or senior high school pupil from attending courses of physical education if the pupil is engaged in a regular school-sponsored interscholastic athletic program.”
Groves said the education code that parents referred to dates back to the 1970s and “has essentially been replaced” with the education code the district uses for its exemptions for 10th- through 12th-graders – EC 51241.
Groves reported that the legal advice the district has received concludes that because EC 51241 was amended in 2004, it is a newer law and thus takes precedence over the education code the parents cited.
The district previously offered the ninth-grade PE exemption to students but changed its policy in 2008.
“In the past, we have had exemptions for PE,” Groves said. “We have changed that because of curriculum issues and wanting to focus on wellness, interpreting state intention and common practice as well.”
California Department of Education Communications Department officials said there are several PE exemptions in the education code, but it is up to individual school districts to decide whether to incorporate them in district policies.
Refuting Groves’ legal interpretation, state officials also claimed that EC 51242 is currently part of the education code and remains in effect for those school districts that have adopted it into their board policies.
When the high school district last reviewed its board policy on physical education in 2009, it included language from EC 51242 – the ninth-grade PE exemption.
When the education code the district cited was most recently amended in 2007, then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued a letter to school districts and county superintendents stating that “other exemptions,” including the education code the parents cited, “remain unaffected” by the amendment.
Other schools’ policies
Gunn, Palo Alto and Saratoga high schools currently allow PE exemptions for ninth-graders.
Robin Francesconi of Gunn’s guidance department said ninth-graders on a Gunn sports team can request an exemption from PE during their sports season. The student is still enrolled in his or her PE class but during the sports season can use the period as a study hall instead of attending PE.
Mona Siegal, who works in the guidance department at Palo Alto High, said Paly’s program echoes Gunn’s flexibility. Siegal said students report to the PE instructor, who directs when students must show up for the course and when they are excused during their sports season.
Eileen Allen, guidance counselor and department chairwoman at Saratoga High, reported that when ninth-grade student-athletes request an exemption, counselors slot in a different course during their normal PE class and schedule them for a seventh-period PE class.
Allen added that the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District used to implement a similar program at Los Gatos High but recently changed the policy to disallow the exemption. The district is considering discontinuing the ninth-grade PE exemption at Saratoga High as well.