Illinois’ physical education waiver policy flaws

     Physical Education (PE) waivers are exemptions from a student’s physical education course based on their participation in other physical activities, usually a school-affiliated sport. These waivers are limited to grades 11 and 12 in Illinois and exclude students that do not participate in school sports, such as club sports. Although most of these students are surpassing the CDC’s recommendation of one hour of physical activity per day, they are still required to be enrolled in a physical education class during the school day. 

     While exercising is generally good, the amount of exertion follows the pattern of a bell curve. More is better until more is worse. Too little exercise and too much exercise can have negative effects alike. Ideally, Goldilocks would be balancing atop the bell curve, but for some students, she’s tumbling to the right. 

     Sophomore Hanna Williams attends nine periods of school, including a weightlifting class, before the exhausting part of her day starts. After school, she goes home for just 30 minutes before leaving for her dance studio, Elise Flagg Academy of Dance, for about five hours of training. She attends the studio six days a week and accumulates hours of training equivalent to a full-time job, around 30 to 40 hours per week. Exercising twice throughout the day is challenging for Williams, as she feels like her PE class drains her before she dances.

     “I have a pretty bad shoulder injury,” she said. “It happened because [I] exerted too much energy [during PE] before my dance competition, so I was so tired, sore and using the wrong muscles because the other ones were tired.” With the many hours of physical activity Williams is clocking, should she be forced to attend her PE class during school?

     Considering adolescents’ bodies are still growing, it is imperative that they don’t get overworked and the risk of injuries are minimized. Too much physical activity can cause stress fractures, over-exhaustion and other negative consequences. Some of these consequences can negatively impact students’ school work, as well. Exhaustion could cause students to fall asleep in class or be too tired to pay attention, which could be deleterious to their schoolwork. However, if students were able to limit their physical activity to a safe amount, they could have more energy and decrease their risk of injuries.

     In addition to physical detriments, out-of-school sports take up time that students could normally use for homework and studying. Having PE waivers would allow these students to replace their PE period with a study hall to be able to better manage their time, take an additional class or apply for a late-start or early-release period. It is unfair to disregard the hours of physical activity that students partake in just because it is not affiliated with their school district. 

     This issue of overexertion isn’t just affecting a small portion of students; in the Midwest, 58.6 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 participated in sports within the last year. The vast majority of these students are simultaneously enrolled in PE classes, as Illinois requires all elementary through high school students to participate in at least three days of physical education per five-day week, not including current exemption policies. Currently, these policies allow students to be excused from their PE classes based on religious or medical reasons, participation in marching band or Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) or select cases of participation in sports. The problem falls on the students who are not in grades 11 and 12, participate in activities other than marching band and ROTC and have no religious or medical reason to be exempt. Although these students are clocking the recommended hours of physical activity, they still have to participate in their PE class.

     I participate in a fall and spring sport along with summer and winter conditioning. I find that attending my PE class just an hour before practice starts is detrimental to my well-being: I am constantly sore and tired and I often slip behind in completing my homework. There’s only so much exertion a teenage body can take before it starts to deteriorate.

     Some school administrators may worry that students could lie about the validity of their training and would consequently not get enough exercise. Of course, it is important that students are truly getting enough physical activity. Because students could fabricate the hours of exercise they are truly getting in order to escape their PE class, the coaches of these athletes should have to sign off on the hours they are physically active, and all hours should be logged to ensure proper participation. This safeguard will ensure that all students are getting the necessary amount of physical activity for good health.

     So, to recap, what should change? Overall, there needs to be more leniency. I get it, PE class is meant for the health of students, but the very rules advocating for health are unsafe for many students. To begin with, freshman and sophomore students should be eligible for PE waivers. In addition, the recognition of adequate sports should reach beyond the ones that take place at school. Students in club sports are just as active. The guidelines put in place for student health and well-being need to be modified, yet again, student health and well-being. Despite what Kaneland may want, the responsibility of reformation falls on the state of Illinois, as schools have to follow their guidelines.

     If Williams was given the option, she “would absolutely choose to get a PE waiver.” She’s not alone. Many students not currently eligible for a PE waiver would leap at the opportunity for better overall health. I know I would, as the current system is disastrous for my well-being. After all, how can students prioritize academic classes if they are stuck recovering from PE?