• August 16, 2021

More than 20 states consider requiring students to take physical education in public school

NEW YORK — More than a dozen states are considering requiring students at public schools to take up physical education, a change that could make the National Guard the nation’s largest provider of such training.

The push by several states, including California, comes as the nation braces for a potential spike in the number of shootings in schools as more states move to tighten gun laws.

The National Guard, which oversees about 8,000 active duty military members and is not part of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the nations largest providers of physical education and sports.

It also is the largest non-military provider of physical therapy, a practice that includes basic physical education classes, according to the American Academy of Sports Medicine.

A group of the states that have adopted this type of physical activity policy are led by California, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont, according the advocacy group Families for Peace and Security.

The states that are considering a mandatory physical education mandate include Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, the groups said in a statement.

At least 20 states and the District of Columbia have considered such a proposal in recent years, according a tally compiled by The Associated Press.

There are currently more than 30 states that require students at schools to attend at least one physical education class, the group said.

While the effort to mandate physical education is unlikely to affect every school, it will lead to more students taking classes in physical education because they will be able to choose classes based on their own physical needs, according Toonah Smith, a senior policy adviser at Families for Change.

The idea of mandatory physical activity classes is not new, but the demand is expected to rise with a rise in mass shootings and school closures due to violence and the economic downturn, she said.

While physical education has been a staple of American schools since the beginning of the 20th century, there is a strong demand for physical education now, said Michaela Koll, the co-founder and director of education and training at the nonprofit, nonpartisan education reform organization.

But physical education students are not fully equipped to take on the responsibilities of leadership and leadership is not the same as leadership skills, Koll said.

For example, a parent with children with physical disabilities may have different skills than a teacher with disabilities, but if a parent chooses a physical education teacher who has a different physical disability, that teacher may have less understanding of how to lead, she added.

For students, physical education teaches students how to think critically, organize their thoughts and communicate, Kampf said.

It teaches students to be aware of their surroundings, to be able see the world from a different perspective, and to be comfortable with boundaries, she told The Associated Media.

Physical education is one tool to help teachers and other educators better understand how students develop, learn and act.