P.E. Practices in Berkeley Elementary Schools Questioned

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday September 29, 2006

At least two elementary schools in Berkeley have stopped hiring physical education teachers through their discretionary funds and are using the money for other programs, leading some parents to question whether their children are receiving adequate exercise. 

The California Department of Education (CDE) recently released a report indicating that the Berkeley Unified School District was among more than half of school districts in the state which failed to meet the mandated elementary school P.E. requirement for the past two school years. The state requires 200 minutes of P.E instruction every ten days. 

However, BUSD officials say the state report is wrong. 

“[The CDE] picked one elementary school in Berkeley—Le Conte. They found that the supplementary P.E. instruction at Le Conte in the form of Sports for Kids was not addressing California standards for P.E. education,” said BUSD Deputy Superintendent Neil Smith. “The kids at Berkeley elementary schools are getting 200 minutes of P.E. every two weeks.” 

According to state law, P.E. is part of the elementary school curriculum and should be taught primarily by the classroom teachers who are certified in it.  

Supplementary P.E. instructors, who do not need P.E. certification from the state, have been hired out of the elementary schools’ discretionary funds, said BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan. These supplementary instructors work with children in the presence of the classroom teacher. 

Jefferson Elementary and Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) elementary school recently stopped using supplementary P.E. teachers and are using their site funds on other programs. 

“My child is getting restless in class,” said Laurie Young, a Jefferson parent. “Judy Doyle used to do P.E. with the kids at Jefferson but they don’t have her anymore.” 

According to Coplan, Jefferson was unable to find someone to fill the P.E. spot after Doyle left and decided to use the funds for a science program instead.  

“The principals in these schools don’t think this is a really big issue as the kids are running around and getting exercise, even with these supplementary P.E. teachers gone,” he said. 

Barbara Steuart, whose children attend BAM, said she was upset by the loss of their P.E. instructor, Joe Phillips. 

“I regret that we don’t have Joe, our enthusiastic, energetic and playful P.E. teacher, anymore,” said Steuart. “I am concerned that parents were not informed that there would be no replacement for Joe. I had to go online and get it from the grapevine.” 

Calls to BAM and Jefferson from the Daily Planet for comment on this issue were not returned. 

The California Center of Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), who released the CDE report (and are behind the banning of junk food from public school premises starting July 2007) also found that school districts did not receive any penalty for lack of compliance of state guidelines. 

BUSD president Terry Doran told the Planet that elementary school physical education had not come up at board meetings recently and therefore he would not be able to comment on the matter. 

“Coach Don Burl is the P.E. teacher for K–5 at John Muir and we use different budgets to make that possible,” said Principal Gregory John of John Muir Elementary School. “Every school has some amount of discretionary funding through which certain things are made possible. Cragmont has dance, we have a fitness program and Coach Don is just fantastic with the kids.”  

Burl, who works two days full-time and two days part-time every week at John Muir, is also the P.E. teacher for Washington Elementary. 

Octavio Hernandez, one of the intra-mural coaches at Malcolm X, was busy organizing a relay race for the third graders during recess last week. 

“I work with kids from each class for 20-25 minutes during their respective lunch recesses,” he said. “We play Dodge Ball, Ga Ga Ball and other games.” 

Although most elementary schools have games such as kick ball, dodge ball, four square, and tetherball during lunch recess or P.E., these activities are not considered appropriate P.E. activities under the state guidelines. 

The CCPHA report includes national recommendations which suggest that “school-age youth should participate daily in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity that is developmentally appropriate, enjoyable, and involves a variety of activities.” 

The report further states that federal initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 is a threat to the amount of time available for P.E. as it focuses on student achievement in defined core academic subjects, making P.E. a low priority. 

Rosa Parks also has a Sports for Kids program, through which funds from the PTA and the BSEP brings in Darryl Jones to help teach P.E. to the students. 

“Sports for Kids is a non-profit which provides schools with site co-ordinators like myself to help out during recess,” Jones said. “The program mostly caters to schools which do not have P.E. coaches. Our main goals is to keep the kids active.”  

Although Jones is not certified in P.E. he said he receives training from his supervisors every year. 

Tracy Hollander, current PTA president at Rosa Parks said she would like it if each class got to work with Jones more than twice every month, but acknowledged that lack of funds was always an issue. 

“It’s a shame that without the Sports for Kids program my son would hardly get any P.E. at all,” said Ben Piper, whose son Zane plays after school soccer through the Sports for Kids program at Rosa Parks. 

“There is increasing evidence that kids are suffering from obesity” he said. “They need at least an hour’s vigorous exercise everyday, not just 15 minutes of running around.”