ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) — The issue of childhood obesity gets a lot of attention, and there are more efforts than ever to educate kids and their parents about ways to prevent it.
That could be why an effort to scale back on physical education and health classes in one Minnesota school district is being met with surprise and disappointment.
The Elk River school board was slated to meet Monday night to review a plan to eliminate 8th grade health classes and to reduce the number of mandatory high school physical education classes.
Dr. Mark Bezek, the superintendent, is scheduled to give an in-depth explanation of the proposed changes. He says it’s time for the Elk River Area School District to offer a broader range of classes to students that will make them better prepared to compete for jobs and get into college.
He doesn’t deny the importance of health education and exercise, but he says classes in technology and foreign language matter, too.
“That’s what this is about here. Now we’re looking at embedding technology and world language — technology into the elementary and world language into the middle school — that’s what this change is about, what this commotion is about,” Bezek said.
Under the proposal, high school students would be required to take one semester of physical education, rather than two.
Middle school students would spend less time studying health, and more time learning Spanish.
“We’re doing what we can in schools, but we have to look at what’s happening between 3:30 and 10:30 [p.m.] in the home. That’s when kids are not getting out,” he said.
Parents in Elk River are concerned about the proposed changes.
Matthew Deets has three kids and says health education is as important and general education.
“It gives them exercise while they are just sitting in school,” he said.
Lindsay Thone works in Elk River.
“We need to learn how to eat healthier, we need to learn how to exercise, to learn about sex education,” she said.
Bezek says students will still get lessons on the human body and healthy eating, but they would be taught in other classes, like science.
“Physical activity can come in many different shapes and forms throughout the day, it doesn’t just have to be in physical education class,” he said.
The school board was scheduled to meet Monday at 7 p.m. The board will take a final vote at the end of the month, but right now they are still asking for input from the community.
If passed, the proposed changes would go into effect next school year.
How does Elk River compare to other school districts around the state?
These health and gym class changes they’re considering would actually put them more in line with what other school districts already do.
Elk River developed a strategic plan three years ago to address the growth they’ve seen there, so there are many changes they’re evaluating.