TN Dept. of Education helping schools comply with new physical activity law

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

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – The Tennessee Department of Education is working with school districts across the state after a new physical activity law caused confusion in some districts.

Some school districts, including Washington and Greene counties, have been using classroom physical activity breaks like Go Noodle to meet a new state law. The law requires kindergarten and first graders to get 225 minutes of unstructured physical activity a week, while second through sixth graders must get 160 minutes per week.

In a December email to school districts, the department of education explicitly said classroom activity breaks like Go Noodle cannot count towards the law because they are structured activities and the law requires activities to be non-structured.

Greene County Director of Schools David McLain said his district recently found out that some activities they have been doing might not count.

“Our schedules and everything like that was built around allowing these things to count and, of course, now it’s kind of like changing your game plan in the middle of the game and that’s pretty tough,” McLain said.

The DOE says several districts are having challenges implementing the requirements, but Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said her office is committed to helping bring them into compliance.

McQueen said, “We’ve worked with them specifically with very specific questions about your schedule, how we might fit this in.”

The department also recently sent out an annual physical activity survey to identify best practices and barriers to the law. Local school districts have already identified some challenges.

McLain said, “I think it needs to be looked at more in depth and one main reason is just time; there’s other mandates we have to do in school trying to educate kids.”

Washington County principal Kelley Harrell is concerned about space to accommodate her 760 students.

“If we aren’t able to go outside to do the activities, like jump rope and things like that, then we really can’t do that. We can’t do those safely in a classroom environment and there isn’t another area in the school that’s big enough,” she said.

When asked if the law is working Commissioner McQueen said the tone is right. “We want to make sure that we have students that are physically active and we are thinking about the health connection to education. If there are things that we need to tweak in the law or continue to work with our legislators, we will.”

But local school districts would like to see more clarification or even changes.

McLain said, “Maybe if the law said kids need 45 minutes a day of physical activity maybe it needs to be left at that.”

The DOE said it will take several months to complete the report on the survey results and identify best practices and barriers. Once the report is finished it will provided to state legislators who can alter the law if needed.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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