Waiver Option Helps Many Florida Students Dodge P.E. Class

With a note from their parents, tens of thousands of students are trading in their gym bags for trumpets, song sheets or books, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.

State law requires elementary and middle-school students to participate in physical education classes.

This is the first full school year the middle-school requirement is being enforced. But as part of the statute, Florida legislators also adopted an "opt-out clause," allowing parents to sign waivers instructing that their children be dismissed from the P.E. courses.

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(Click here to see the statute.)

As a result, many Florida children are opting out of P.E., according to preliminary numbers provided by the Florida Department of Education. In some schools, 30 percent or more of elementary and middle-school students have opted out of the courses.

Because middle-school students are required to take only one semester of P.E., the numbers will not be final until the end of the school year, Florida Department of Education officials say.

But the preliminary numbers are still surprising to some advocates of the mandate.

Reaction From Legislators

State Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who sponsored the physical education legislation, said a closer look at the numbers is needed.

While it's still too early to tell, Constantine said, he has asked the Department of Education for a statistical analysis of the data. It would worry him "if individual schools are using the waiver as a means to get around putting P.E. back in their schools," he said.

"We understood there would be a certain percentage ... we didn't really know what percentage that would be. ... But there would be a percentage that would opt out, have a waiver and that was intended that way. We never expected or hoped that schools would use it as a way to get around the entire concept of P.E. And if that 's the case, then we're going to have to do something about it."

Physical Educators React

John Todorovich, president of the Florida Physical Education Association, said it can be disheartening for educators to see children being pulled out of P.E. classes for any reason.

Todorovich stressed the importance of young people receiving physical education, adding that society as a whole is out of tune with the extent of the need.

"I think part of the disconnect is a lot of people think being physically educated is akin to being physically fit," he said. "People sometimes think P.E. is a place to just exercise and, in fact, it's a place to learn."

He said he would be open to the idea of waivers if students receiving the waivers could demonstrate that they have met Florida's physical education standards. He worried, however, that this is not happening.

"I don't mind waiving out if it could be demonstrated that something else can truly help people meet those requirements but, if not, then it's not waiving, it's replacing," Todorovich said.

William Poniatowski, program specialist for physical education at Volusia County schools, said he hasn't seen many children opt out apart from pockets of the community. He attributed that to Volusia's making P.E. a required course while other counties have chosen the elective route.

Out of about 15,000 middle-school students in the county, fewer than 1,000 kids have waived physical education, he said.

But as the waiver gains attention, more parents could take the option, he said.

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