⚫ Legislation gives student-athletes a special option when their sport is in season

⚫ The proposal applies only to a specific group of athletes

⚫ Critics believe the bill sends the wrong message to students

Some athletes in high school should be able to skip gym class in favor of study hall, according to a proposed law moving through the New Jersey Legislature.

Critics of the measure believe it undermines the importance of physical education, while other opponents say a statewide mandate is unsustainable.

The Assembly Education Committee has given the green light to a measure that applies specifically to 10th-, 11th, and 12th-grade athletes who are struggling academically and/or are enrolled in at least one advanced course.

"A3873 aims to provide the necessary flexibility for these athletes to excel in their studies," said Assemblywoman Carmen Theresa Morales, D-Essex, a primary sponsor of the bill.

Under the bill, the substitution would need the approval of the student's parents or guardians, as well as a counselor in school. The trade-off can only occur when the student's sport is in season.

Option II vs. statewide mandate

Currently, districts in New Jersey offer "Option II" for students who want to substitute courses — not just physical education — for alternatives. Requirements for Option II are rigorous — the alternative activity must still allow the student to meet or exceed New Jersey Student Learning Standards.

According to the New Jersey Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, A3873 would dilute the state's requirement that students get 150 minutes per week of health, safety, and physical education.

"We're singling out one curricular area in our schools, and with all the information around the need for physical activity today ... I believe we're sending the wrong message to the young people in our buildings," said Bruce Peragallo, president of NJAHPERD.

Under the legislation, each school district would develop a policy to allow eligible students to substitute a physical education course with study hall. Groups, though, believe the bill should just permit districts to allow the change — not mandate it.

"We do think that this is something that should be dealt with at the local level, at the individual district level," Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association, told lawmakers. "Some may feel it's appropriate to keep PE as a requirement for their students. There also may be some operational concerns, whether it be from a scheduling standpoint or having staffing."

A similar bill exists in the New Jersey Senate. It has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

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