Local school systems preparing for new TN physical activity requirements

State lawmakers recently simplified a physical activity law after the old one caused confusion in schools across the Volunteer State.

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- Five local school systems that failed the state’s physical activity requirements last school year will have to ensure students stay more active in school this fall. Currently, Tennessee law requires kids get 90-minutes of physical activity per week in school. A new state law goes into effect this summer and will make the requirements for K-8th graders more rigorous.

Under the new law, kindergarten and first graders will have to get 225 minutes of physical activity a week and second through sixth graders will be required to get 160 minutes of activity per week.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Greene County Director of Schools David McLain said about the new mandates. During the 2014-2015 school year Greene County Schools was one of five school systems that were not in compliance with the current state law. Only seven out of Greene County’s 16 schools satisfied the 90-minute physical activity law, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

McLain previously told News Channel 11 he believed his district was in compliance during the 2014-2015 school year. He believed part of the problem came from self-reporting that is completed at the local level. “Maybe some of the reporting at the school level they weren’t aware that we could utilize things such as recess or brain breaks.”

Since then, McLain said he has spoken to faculty to ensure all physical activity time is being recorded properly. McLain said, “We felt like we had a hold on that, but now with the increase in the amount of time that that’s going to be somewhat of a challenge.” Kindergarten and first graders will be required to get 60 percent more physical activity, while the mandate for grades 2-6 will nearly double. “I think it’s huge because you’ve got a different scale for 7th and 8th grade,” McLain said. “In a lot of our middle schools are on the same schedule so that’s going to be difficult to get that in for when 6th grade is requiring a little bit more than 7th and 8th grade, so I think there are going to be some challenges.”

“It is a challenge but it’s one that our principals are already working on,” said Andy True, assistant superintendent of Kingsport City Schools. Last school year Kingsport had one middle school that was not in compliance with the 90-minute physical activity law. True said faculty is already looking at ways to implement the new law. “At the elementary level that’s typically where you’re going to find more outdoor playtime where kids are allowed to go out to recess,” True said. “When you get in the middle school that’s where it can be a challenge I think because they’re more of a first period, second period, third period structure so they have to look at those things and see where they offer that during the course of the day.

While there are concerns, some state lawmakers believe the more rigorous requirement is necessary. Senator Rusty Crowe (R- District 3), who was a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “This more than doubles what we had before and what we were seeing was [students are] just not as healthy as they should be and that leads to diabetes and all kinds of other maladies.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, recommends kids get 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

“If you look at the 90 minutes that they were doing, probably not the way we wanted it done,” Senator Crowe said. The new law mandates three 15 minute breaks per day for K-1 graders and two 20 minute breaks at least 4 days a week for 2-6 graders. “This isn’t just the moving around and walking between class. This… needs to be organized outside the classroom or in the gym so it’s a rigorous exercise for these kids.”

The bill lists activities such as walking, jump roping, and playing volleyball as acceptable forms of physical activity. It also states that the physical activity must be “non-structured” and defines that as a break from school work or sedentary activities during which rigorous physical activity is provided.

In a statement to News Channel 11, the Tennessee Department of Education suggested school systems, “take a deep look at their class schedules and see where there might be space for additional physical activity time.” TDOE also cited several research studies that show the relationship between increased physical activity and academics, “Research has shown that if students are physically active before or during a lesson, there is a higher percentage for students to retain the information. The increase in physical activity will allow students an opportunity to move which will help get the blood flowing through the body and to the brain in order to stimulate the brain.”

Several local school systems said they will be discussing ways to implement the new requirements over the summer to be ready in time for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. Al rights reserved.

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