Originally published Aug. 11, 2017 by WATE TV6 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Starting this school year, Tennessee students are going to see a change in when and how they get physical activity time at school.

State lawmakers recently simplified a physical activity law after the old one caused confusion in schools across the state. The old law broke down how many physical activity breaks students were supposed to get during the school day and required a certain amount of minutes for the entire week.

minutesRidgeview Elementary School Principal Kelley Harrell said it did not allow for a lot of flexibility with scheduling.

“That was difficult for us to get three 15 minute times a day in our lower grades,” she said. “It really broke up our day.”

Under the old law, there was also confusion about which activities counted towards the required minutes because the activity time had to be unstructured.

“What I found complicated was structured and unstructured,” said Greene County Director of Schools David McLain. “We have P.E. teachers in all of our schools, but we weren’t allowed to use the structured time to what was being requested from the state in order for us to meet what they’re asking us to do.”

Earlier this year, Tennessee State Rep. Bill Dunn, who represents District 16 which includes part of Knox County, introduced legislation to simplify the physical activity law. Dunn said he wanted to make the law more flexible for school leaders. The Tennessee Legislature passed the bill in April.

Under the new law, elementary students are required to get 130 minutes of physical activity in school every full school week, including one 15-minute physical activity time period a day. Middle and high school students are required to get 90 minutes of physical activity in school every full school week. The confusing mandate requiring “unstructured” activity was eliminated, allowing physical education classes and brain breaks in the classroom to now count towards the required activity minutes. Walking between classes does not count towards fulfilling the requirement.

“This new law really gives us the freedom to make it work well in our schedule while still giving our students what they need,” Harrell said. “When they implemented this law it was difficult for us but they listened to school administrators. They listened to teachers. They heard our concerns and they went back to the table and redeveloped this law in a way that allows us to utilize it.”

Harrell said the new law opens the door for students to do more activities that count towards the law. “We’re going to have outside time. We’ll have our physical education classes that do have that structure. We’ll also have our classroom brain breaks such as Go Noodle… We’ll have a lot of different activities that we can include to meet that requirement this year.”

McLain said he is glad the law was changed but has some concerns moving forward.

“I think 130 minutes is still quite a bit of time because in certain situations some of our kids just get P.E. three days a week,” McLain said. “So there’s still going to be some challenges there but at least we’re getting to count the P.E. time.”

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