All but ten of over 200 D.C. public and charter schools failed to meet the city standards for physical education set for grades kindergarten through eighth grade, according to a Washington Post review of school health forms released Sept. 5.
The D.C. Healthy Schools Act, passed in 2010, requires all schools to allocate 150 minutes per week of physical education for students in kindergarten through fifth grade and 225 minutes a week for grades six through eight by 2014.
However, elementary schools generally only offered around 45 to 90 minutes of physical education a week in 2016, while middle schools also offered as low as 45 minutes a week.
The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention recommends that children and adolescents engage in at least one hour of physical activity per day. The act states that children in kindergarten through fifth grade should receive 30 minutes per day and those in grades six through eight should receive 45 minutes. Currently, some D.C. public and charter schools offer children on average only nine minutes a day of physical education.
Carly Wright, senior manager of advocacy at the Society of Health and Physical Educators, which encourages the practice of physical education for children, said the 60-minute requirement helps kids to be physically healthy while also providing academic benefits, including higher test scores, better focus in class and lower rates of discipline referrals.
D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who wrote the Healthy Schools Act, told the Washington Post that she would recommend that schools examine alternative strategies before the D.C. Council gets involved. However, Cheh would not rule out withholding funds from D.C. schools in order to send a message that physical education is important.
“I don’t think we need new legislation,” Cheh said. “I think we should stick with the standards as they are rather than weakening them and instead focus on the executive branch, particularly the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and D.C. Public Schools, and figure out how we can do it.”
According to Wright, there needs to be a set implementation plan that schools can follow in order to increase the amount of time needed for physical education during the school day. While D.C. schools had time to implement the needed physical education for students, they were simply not held accountable to their original plans.
“A lot of times these mandates are adopted, and there’s not an implementation plan,” Wright said. “There’s not the appropriate funding allocated along with the mandate to make sure that it can actually be implemented successfully in schools.”
DCPS Communications Coordinator Janae Hinson said the implementation of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act remains a work in progress. She did not provide a target date as to when it would be fully implemented.
“We acknowledge that the Healthy Schools Act is designed to improve the health and wellness of students, and we anticipate that schools will continue to strive towards full implementation of the Act as funding is made available,” Hinson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “DCPS’ primary goal is for students to develop the necessary skills to engage in a lifetime of wellness and physical activity.”
Wright noted the problem with getting children enough physical activity is not limited to D.C. Currently, according to SHAPE America’s Shape of the Nation report, only 19 states set the minimum amount of time children in kindergarten through fifth grade should engage in physical activity while only 16 do the same for those in grades six through eight.
“It’s not a unique challenge, unfortunately,” Wright said. “But, we’re trying to get the information out there as much as possible about how important it is to offer effective physical education instructions to kids.”
Wright said there will need to be a cultural shift in many schools to place more importance on physical education. Wright added that parents should involve themselves in their children’s school schedule to make changes.
“I think we’re seeing a trend in the right direction,” Wright said. “But, it takes time to make those major cultural shifts in schools and in education to prioritize physical education.”