By Abby Spegman

The Bulletin

Lynn Neemann had barely finished explaining the rules of the game before students in her fourth-period PE class at Pacific Crest Middle School took off across the newly waxed gymnasium floor on Thursday.

Fortunately, the rules were simple: The game was tag, and everyone was it.

Unfortunately, the issue of physical education in Oregon schools is not as simple. That’s because beginning in 2017-18, schools will be required to offer students in kindergarten through fifth grade 150 minutes per week of PE and students in sixth through eighth grade 225 minutes per week, a requirement many school officials say they can’t meet without making cuts elsewhere.

“We can meet it, but you won’t like the way it’s implemented,” said Jim Green, deputy executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. “Given the limited hours we have in a day, this is going to cut into something.”

Right now there is no requirement for how much time elementary and middle-schoolers spend in PE classes — or in any subject, for that matter. In high school, students must have one credit of physical education in order to graduate.

Lawmakers approved the requirement back in 2007 as a reaction to childhood obesity rates and disappearing PE classes in schools. They gave schools a decade to phase it in, but during the recession, many schools cut PE teachers and haven’t fully added them back.

Right now elementary-schoolers in Bend-La Pine Schools get 60 to 90 minutes of PE per week. Most of the district’s middle schools combine PE and health classes, meaning students aren’t getting PE every day or every week.

Adding PE class time could mean cutting other subjects out of the day — maybe music or recess at the elementary schools, electives at the middle schools.

“I am absolutely not a fan of this requirement. I think it has so many negative consequences,” said Lora Nordquist, assistant superintendent at Bend-La Pine Schools. “Mandating 90 more minutes of PE a week is not going to fix childhood obesity.”

There is also the matter of space, since many schools hold PE and lunch in the same place and winter weather means outdoors is off limits for part of the year.

In elementary schools classroom teachers can teach PE, but in middle schools teachers must have a special endorsement. That means schools would either have to hire more teachers or create larger classes.

Green, who is also on the Salem-Keizer School District’s board, said he’s heard of plans for classes of 150 students and two teachers.

A 2015 report from the Oregon Department of Education showed schools have made little progress in reaching the new requirement. In 2013-14, elementary-schoolers were receiving on average 54 minutes per week, while middle-schoolers were receiving 153 minutes per week.

That year, 24,631 students in kindergarten through eighth grade did not receive any physical education instruction, up from the previous year.

Now school advocates and supporters of the law are talking about possible changes to the requirement. Green said those include allowing health class to count toward PE time, or giving schools more years to comply.

Nineteen states require a certain amount of PE for elementary-schoolers, while 15 states have requirements for middle-schoolers, according to a 2016 report from SHAPE America, which represents health and PE teachers.

Collin Brooks is the PE teacher at Jewell Elementary School in Bend and sits on the board of directors of SHAPE America. He supports the new requirement, though he said it might require some tweaks to make meeting it possible.

What he doesn’t want is 100 students in his class.

“Really what we’re after is quality physical education. In that case, you’ve taken away the teacher’s ability to properly and safely instruction students,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7837,