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RR leaders make case for band, ROTC physical ed credits

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A bill proposed by state Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, would allow school districts to count marching band and JROTC as physical education credits toward high school graduation.

The measure is a response to a New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) announcement that students no longer would be able to substitute those activities to fulfill the unit of PE required to get a diploma.

Craig Brandt.

Craig Brandt.

Brandt’s bill, introduced Monday, would allow “participation in cheerleading, the marching band, the junior reserve officers’ training corps or any other course or program that meets state content and performance standards” to satisfy PE credits for graduation.

Gov. Susana Martinez has put the measure on her call for the session, which is now halfway over. It might face some competition from state Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who introduced her own graduation requirements bill.

Stewart’s bill would set a slightly different standard: “one unit in physical education as designated and provided by each school district.”

Rio Rancho Public Schools favors flexibility, district spokeswoman Kim Vesely said in an email. PED granted RRPS and other districts a waiver in January for students nearing graduation. Vesely says the waiver would not help current freshmen and sophomores.

“Those ninth- and 10th-graders are now in the position of having to drop plans to take other elective classes important to their college career plans so they can enroll in PE,” she said.

“For example, they might have to choose to not complete the four full years of band or JROTC that help them qualify for scholarships in those areas, or drop other electives like foreign languages that are required for admission to some colleges,” she said.

The state’s latest graduation requirements say students must take one unit of PE and at least half a unit of health education.

The status of marching band and JROTC has changed more than once. They counted for PE credit under a state law passed in 2001. A few years ago, when graduation requirements changed, the language about marching bands and JROTC dropped out of state law.

Last year, the PED catalogue of courses said two semesters of marching band and JROTC still counted for one PE credit. In October, PED announced these classes would no longer count for PE.

After some public opposition, PED announced in November districts could apply for one-time waivers.

RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland wrote PED a letter in December, asking for clarification about the waiver. She said some students not in PE found their fitness needs addressed by families through other outlets. Other parents dislike the curriculum, attire and competitive nature in PE classes.

Cleveland also offered evidence of how PE was less effective.

“Parents and students in the ROTC program maintain that this program surpasses traditional PE classes in every respect,” she wrote.

RRHS band director Kurt Schmidt had a similar view. In an interview in December, he said his marching band students have to attend practice for 7.5 hours a week.

“The kids’ physical activity in marching band more than counts for physical activity,” he said.

The PED website lists content standards for high school physical education, with multiple benchmarks under each standard. These standards include movement competency, motor skills, physically active lifestyles, physical fitness, behavior and respect during physical activities and personal development.

The Institute of Medicine, a public policy nonprofit, called upon schools last year to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity into the daily schedule of every student. With the recent emphasis on high-stakes testing, the report said, an increasing number of school administrators have cut PE classes and recess.

One out of every four teenagers in Sandoval County is overweight or obese, according to the 2011 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.

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