They stopped short of jumping up and down.
But at a state Board of Education hearing Tuesday, gym teachers and parents made a strong case for continuing to require physical education classes in Idaho high schools.
“For the life of me, I can’t understand where the pressure is coming from to take it out,” said Henry Hamill, head of Lake City High School’s physical education department.
The single required semester of physical education in three years of high school makes a big difference, Hamill said. At its start, fewer than half the students can run a mile. By the end, 90 percent can make the finish line.
Hamill’s sentiments were echoed at the hearing, held to take testimony on a wide range of proposed state school rule changes. The changes - yet to be approved by the Board of Education and Legislature - are meant to cut red tape and return many decisions to local school districts.
Up to 60 people at a time attended the hearing, one of a series being held throughout the state on hundreds of changes in state rules proposed by the Education Department.
Many lauded increased requirements for math and science, which are a response to the needs of a technological society. But it was elimination of the physical education requirement that drew the most heated reaction Tuesday.
Every year, Hamill said, there’s a drop in the number of students able to pass tests of basic skills, such as flexibility and strength.
Waving a blue-covered copy of a U.S. surgeon general’s report, University of Idaho professor Cal Lathen recommended expanding the requiremnt to four semesters.
The report, issued in July, says that more than half of adolescents aren’t physically active. It recommends regular, if not daily, physical education.
“The draft proposal for the state of Idaho is heading in the opposite direction,” said Lathen. “that doesn’t make sense.”
Pam Lippi, who teaches at Sandpoint’s Farmin/Stidwell School, said she fears the de-emphasis on physical activity will filter down to elementary schools. She unrolled a petition with 380 signatures, asking that the board not repeal the high-school requirement.
“Not one person I went to was against signing this petition. They couldn’t believe the state Board of Education was thinking about doing this,” Lippi said.
“Children need to express themselves,” she said. “They need to move and they need to be healthy.”
Physical education can help children stay active, said Post Falls parent Gail Worden. “We’re raising the most out-of-shape generation.”
Lori Lochelt of the North Idaho AIDS Coalition testified that requiring health classes is a key to stopping socially transmitted diseases.
Several people also protested a proposal to drop state limits on class sizes. Another hot topic was teacher certification.
Under the proposed rules, outside experts such as business people or artists could teach full time. They could be in charge of a classroom for up to three years without having been trained and certified to teach.
“Teaching is not just mastering content,” said Steve Casey, testifying on behalf of Coeur d’Alene’s secondary school principals. “It’s the ability to deal with young people. It’s integrity. … It’s patience.”