BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Bakersfield Californian staff writer | http://bit.ly/r2EWz4
Sunday, Sep 25 2011 08:03 PM - The Bakersfield City School District wants to give struggling junior high school students more English and math support and only the minimum PE required.
On Tuesday the district board will vote on whether to ask the state education department for permission to do just that.
It's the first time BCSD -- or any of the larger school districts in Kern County -- has asked the California Department of Education for such a waiver.
Currently, BCSD gives struggling seventh- and eighth-graders an extra math or English class, which means less time for other classes, in this case physical education.
Under California education code, students in grades one through six must get a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education every 10 school days; grades seven through 12 must get a minimum of 400 minutes; and elementary school districts with grades one through eight, like BCSD, must have a minimum of 200 minutes.
When district officials asked state department officials about potential penalties, it received conflicting answers on whether it would be penalized for providing 200 minutes instead of 400 minutes for seventh and eighth graders, said Nancy Olcott, director of curriculum and standards.
Code violations could cost school districts state funding. Waivers are designed to give schools flexibility without undermining the basic intent of the law.
"This is just a precaution," Olcott said. "We still want to provide services we know are necessary for our students. And we don't want to reduce their language arts or math time."
PE IN CALIFORNIA EDUCATION CODE
Physical education minutes required:
More information: www.cde.ca.gov, California State Board of Education Policy 99-03
Source: California Department of Education
A district English-learner advisory committee and the teachers union, Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association, have signed off on the waiver. But teachers did so under the condition that conversations regarding physical education minutes continue, said Brad Barnes, BETA president.
"It is a big issue," Barnes said. "I don't think the kids are getting the physical education they need. It's going to need to be fixed next year."
The district, he said, has laid off half its physical education teachers since the mid-2000s. Currently, BCSD has fewer than 20 physical education teachers spread throughout its 40 campuses.
An audit of physical education programs found nothing wrong with instructional minutes BCSD was providing, Olcott said.
Kern High, Panama-Buena Vista Union and Greenfield Union school districts -- among the largest school districts in Kern, along with BCSD -- have never requested a waiver, officials there said.
Christine Gordon, an education programs consultant for the state department, said it's rare for districts to ask for a waiver. And it could be tough to get approved.
State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson is a staunch supporter of physical education and likely would not approve of such a waiver, she said.
Torlakson initiated California Fitness Month to promote physical fitness and healthier living. And he authored a bill to tighten requirements to ensure that high school students receive appropriate amounts of physical education, and another to provide professional development of physical education teachers.
When state Physical Fitness Test results were released earlier this year, Torlakson said, "Nothing is more important than the health of our children."
Those results showed that only about 24 percent of fifth-graders, 32 percent of seventh graders and 36 percent of ninth graders in Kern earned a "healthy" score -- well below the state's averages.
But math and English scores in BCSD are also below state averages, according to recent Standardized Testing and Reporting results.
About 41 percent of BCSD students scored proficient or better in English, and 48 percent in math. The state averaged 54 percent in English and 50 percent in math.
BCSD officials won't know until January 2012 if the waiver is granted, Olcott said.
Tuesday's board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at 1300 Baker St.