ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s high school seniors who were counting on marching band, athletics, JROTC and other activities to serve as a required physical education credit can breathe a sigh of relief.
The Public Education Department will exempt this year’s seniors, and some juniors, from a rule that blocks students from using other courses or activities as a substitute for a two-semester P.E. class needed to graduate.
School districts previously had the freedom to give students a P.E. credit, which is required for graduation, if they participated in certain activities or classes – like athletics, band, JROTC, cheerleading and others.
But last fall, PED announced it would no longer allow students to substitute other courses or activities for P.E., said Paul Aguilar, PED deputy secretary of finance and operations.
A November memo said districts could seek waivers for seniors who hadn’t scheduled a P.E. course but were set to graduate in May, Aguilar said.
“Our intent was never to hurt kids,” he said, adding that’s why PED offered waivers.
In a Jan. 16 memo, PED updated the waiver rules, telling districts current seniors and some juniors could be grandfathered in under the old rules if districts applied for a waiver.
Juniors are eligible for a waiver if they have already applied an extracurricular activity toward their required P.E. credit, according to the department. Spokesman Larry Behrens said districts will file those waivers next year.
To date, 26 school districts and charter schools have applied for a waiver, Behrens said. Some districts, like Albuquerque Public Schools, already require students to take a P.E. class for graduation and are not affected by the change.
Officials from several districts said they were bothered by the timing of PED’s announcement during the school year, and that PED did a poor job of notifying them about the details of the rule change and waiver possibilities.
“It has been a frustrating process,” said Cindy Martin, deputy superintendent of Clovis Municipal Schools.
Aguilar said school district officials should contact him if they are confused.
A group of Rio Rancho parents is also upset with the rule change, Superintendent Sue Cleveland said.
They’re angry because the change could force their students to take a P.E. course instead of an elective class, like an Advanced Placement course or a dual-credit course that earns college credit, Cleveland said.
“When we talk of eliminating electives, parents become very concerned and often quite angry,” Clevelend wrote in a letter to PED.
State law requires students to earn one P.E. credit. New this year, P.E. courses now include end-of-course exams – although students are not required to pass the exam to graduate so long as they pass the course.
Both Martin and Cleveland said the rule change could force districts to hire more P.E. teachers. Cleveland said because of tight budgets that could mean reducing elective courses.
Two Rio Rancho Republicans – Sen. Craig Brandt and Rep. Jason Harper – are pushing legislation, SB 122, that would allow districts to decide whether JROTC, marching band, athletics, or cheerleading should serve as a substitute for a P.E. credit.