Originally published March 7, 2019 in Bethesda Magazine.
By Caitlynn Peetz
For the first time since it was introduced a decade ago, a bill requiring that elementary schools provide students 90 minutes of physical education instruction each week — double what Montgomery students get — received approval Thursday in the state House of Delegates.
As proposed, House Bill 110 was opposed by the Montgomery school board because it could have cost an estimated $11.3 million. But amendments watered down the 90-minute mandate, instead calling the time a target that school districts should aim to achieve.
The bill passed the House 140-0 and heads to the Senate for consideration.
“I have faith is going to figure out a way to get 90 minutes and I’m excited to see that,” said Matt Slatkin, a Kensington gym teacher who has been advocating for the bill for several years. “As a teacher, I don’t think people understand how important P.E. is. We’re going through a childhood obesity epidemic and a mental health epidemic, and P.E. helps with both of those.”
Montgomery County schools provide an average of 45 minutes per week of physical education, one of the lowest totals in the state. State estimates show the school system would have needed to add 135 physical education teachers to accommodate the requirements of the bill.
Under the amended bill, school systems would be required to report how much physical activity is provided for students each year to the state Department of Education and are prohibited from withholding recess as punishment.
All eight county school board members last month voiced support for more physical activity for students and said they would consider ways to increase gym and recess time at elementary schools.
The board voted to oppose the bill because it does not support “unfunded mandates” from the state government.
“I am relieved it’s not a mandate because the fiscal note was a huge concern,” said board Vice President Pat O’Neill. “Increasing physical activity improves students’ physical and mental health, and that’s important.”
At-Large school board member Jeanette Dixon and student board member Ananya Tadikonda voted in favor of House Bill 110, provided the state would send more money to the county.
Even if phrased as being a goal to provide more physical activity, Dixon said there would be increased cost to provide the teachers and resources.
“There’s no question we want students moving and exercising, but I think we would have to talk about the funding for that because it does come with a price tag,” Dixon said. “In theory, I would love to see our kids be able to be fit and have more time to exercise, and I could certainly support that as a goal.”