What Schools Must Have

As insane as it might seem, when times are tough, economically, it’s always education — the future of our society, our country, even our species — that seems to get cut first.  School nurses get laid off, along with librarians and counselors.  Art classes are pretty much gone, as are the band and orchestras of our youth.  There’s no money for after school activities and lunches are made off-site and trucked in like military MREs.  Now, however, a California court has ruled that there is one part of the school day that simply can’t be cut, regardless of how bad a fiscal crisis a school district is facing.

So what is this sacred cow of education?  This subject that can’t be touched?  Could it be mathematics, a veritable necessity for understanding our ever-increasingly complex technological world?  What about language arts, the foundation of human interaction, understanding, and communication?  History, chemistry, or biology?  Of course not.  The protected topic is physical education.

State law requires California elementary schools to offer 200 minutes of P.E. every 10 days but not every school is able to fulfill that order.  Certainly, says one parent, Cornell Elementary in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Albany wasn’t.  That parent sued and the appellate court agreed.  The judges ruled unanimously, writing that “while individual school districts may have discretion as to how to administer their physical education programs, those programs must satisfy the 200-minute-per-10-school-day minimum.”

Of course, physical education is important.  “Kids need time to play; they need time to burn off their energy,” said Donald Driscoll, the parent’s attorney.  And it’s good that there are requirements that it be part of the school day.  What boggles my mind and, frankly, makes me a little bit sad, is that there doesn’t seem to be any such requirements for science or language or the arts, let alone funding for such things.  And yet, P.E. and sports always seem to get what they need.

What I would like to see is schools getting adequate funding and support for all areas of study.  That means equipment for science labs, books for the library, and, yes, balls to play foursquare with — and if that means that potholes don’t get fixed or the lines at the DMV get a little longer or taxes go up for the wealthy, well, we’re adults and we can handle some sacrifice on behalf of future generations.

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