5 local school districts fail state’s 90-minute physical activity law

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TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL)- State records show kids in several school systems throughout the Tri-Cities region are not getting enough exercise in school. Five local school districts did not meet Tennessee’s 90-minute physical activity law last school year.

The latest Tennessee Department of Education Physical Activity/Physical Education Annual Report for the 2014-2015 school year found 36 percent of school districts across the state did not meet the state mandate. The law requires that kids get 90-minutes of physical activity per week in school. Five local school districts were not in compliance, including Carter, Greene, Hawkins, and Johnson counties along with the city of Kingsport.

Greene County Schools had the worst compliance issues in our area. Only seven out of the district’s 16 schools met the requirement. Records do not provide specifics, but show six elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools were not in compliance. “I was surprised,” said David McLain, director of schools for Greene County Schools. McLain believes his district was in compliance and said part of the problem could come from the 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.”

McLain said all kids in grades K-8 go to PE at least once a week. “At the 9-12 level in high school kids don’t always have PE class so what our high schools do is try to set aside at least 30 minutes, three days a week to where we have walking time or something like that,” McLain said.

Carter County Schools had 10 out of 15 of its schools meet the requirement, but none of its five high schools were in compliance. Secondary Supervisor for Carter County Schools Danny McClain said it is tough to fit in 90-minutes of physical activity a week at the high school level. “With all the other ACT prep, the new RTI requirements, with all the academic requirements it is super hard to fit that into a high school schedule.” McClain said high school students are required to take 1.5 credits of PE and students get physical activity by participating in marching band, athletics, and weight-lifting among other things.

It is virtually impossible for a student to meet these requirements and also be able to take a PE course every year.” -Johnson County Director of Schools

Johnson County High School and Johnson County Middle School were not in compliance in Johnson County. Director of Schools Dr. Mischelle Simcox agreed that it is hard to fit 90-minutes into an already packed schedule. “At the high school level, there are required courses that must be taken to graduate. It is virtually impossible for a student to meet these requirements and also be able to take a PE course every year. We are always looking for creative ways to meet this 90-minutes requirement.”

Sevier Middle School in Kingsport also failed to meet the mandate. Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True told News Channel 11, “In 14-15, there was a change in what was allowed to be counted toward that 90 minute requirement and Sevier Middle School found that what they had been doing to meet the requirement was no longer allowed. They quickly implemented changes and are in compliance for 15-16.”

2013-14 School Year
DISTRICTNot in ComplianceElementary schools in complianceMiddle schools in complianceHigh schools in complianceTotal # of schools in compliance
Bristol5117 out of 7
Carter91515 out of 15
Elizabethton3115 out of 5
Greene Co.X81413 out of 16
Greeneville4116 out of 6
Hawkins124218 out of 18
Johnson City82111 out of 11
Johnson Co.5117 out of 7
Kingsport82111 out of 11
Sullivan126422 out of 22
Unicoi Co.5117 out of 7
Washington Co.112215 out of 15

Hawkins County Schools Director of Schools Steve Starnes said, “One of our high schools followed the previous guidelines [counting walking time between classes] and therefore was non-compliant in 2014-15. In order to fully comply with the law, all Hawkins County’s Schools have been instructed to integrate 18-20 minutes of daily physical activity into the instructional day.”

School systems might have struggled to meet the 90-minute per week law because of a recent change in state law, prohibiting systems from counting walking time between classes toward the requirement. State records show Greene County Schools was the only local school system to have compliance issues when it was allowed during the 2013-2014 school year.

2014-15 School Year
DISTRICTNot in ComplianceElementary schools in complianceMiddle schools in complianceHigh schools in complianceTotal # of schools in compliance
Bristol5117 out of 7
CarterX91010 out of 15
Elizabethton3115 out of 5
Greene Co.X5027 out of 16
Greeneville4116 out of 6
HawkinsX124117 out of 18
Johnson City82111 out of 11
Johnson Co.X5005 out of 7
KingsportX81110 out of 11
Sullivan126422 out of 22
Unicoi Co.5117 out of 7
Washington Co.112215 out of 15

“You should really get 60 minutes of moderate to high activity every single day…  the kid should get sweaty, feel a little winded.” Dr. George FordAccording to the state’s physical activity report, most school districts in Tennessee cite concerns with decreased academic time, lack of available implementation time, and a lack of consequences for not complying with the law as barriers to following the physical activity requirement. The report also shows creative implementation methods across the state include, Zumba, walking groups, and dancing.

But doctors say even with the 90-minute physical activity mandate, kids need more exercise. “You should really get 60 minutes of moderate to high activity every single day,” said Dr. George Ford, pediatric endocrinologist with Niswonger Children’s Hospital. He said around 20 percent of kids across Tennessee are overweight or obese. Tennessee has the 5th highest childhood obesity rate in the nation, according to The State of Obesity 2014 report by the Robert Wood Johnson’s Trust for America’s Health.

Dr. Ford said, “For the first time in many generations children are experiencing type-two diabetes. People who trained me never saw that in children. But I see it almost every day.” If parents are concerned about their child’s level of activity, Dr. Ford said first make sure kids are getting “60 minutes of moderate to high activity a day and… the kid should get sweaty, feel a little winded.” He also suggested finding and doing something you love to promote consistency.

Several local school systems are working to fit more physical activity into already tight schedules for next school year. Carter County Schools said its high school principals know it’s a priority to make sure students get 90-minutes of activity per week and officials are consulting with the state department of education. “Maybe, it’s during lunch time, taking a break, walking around the track, going to the gym,” said McClain.

“I promise you we’re looking into it to make sure we’re doing that because need to be active and kids need to be healthy,” said Greene County Schools Director McLain.Copyright 2016 WJHL. Al rights reserved.

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