MSP Reports for Calvert County

"When you tell me there's no gyms, whose fault is that?" --Sen. Roy Dyson

By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - Margaret Brewinski, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Balitmore, recently treated a 17-year-old boy who came to the emergency room complaining of stomach pain. The boy weighed more than 300 pounds, she said, and his pancreas "had completely burned out." The uninsured boy was hospitalized for about two months at a cost of about $1,000 a day.

"I have seen children and parents in tears over the kids being overweight," she said. "If they establish healthy habits as a child, they will have healthy habits as an adult."

Brewinski told her story Wednesday in an appearance before a Senate committee considering legislation that would mandate an increase in the amount of physical education given elementary school pupils.

But the measure was opposed by the State Department of Education which said physical education was a question for local districts to decide. Officials also raised questions about cost and lack of gym facilities in elementary schools.

To implement the bill, a majority of the school systems would have to hire additional staff, and some would have to build additional facilities. The estimated cost is $47.8 million dollars to hire additional physical education teachers.

Physical education differs from physical activity because it requires a certified teacher to provide an instruction program that teaches children skill development and health-related components of fitness.

An opponent of the bill said this is an unrealistic goal.

"The educational plate is full, unfortunately the school systems cannot do all the things that society expects schools to do," said Jim Lupis, executive director of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.

Maryland State Department of Education officials said they recognized that there is a problem with obesity among adolescents, but said that the local school districts have to decide how to address this problem and not the state.

Rebecca Bell, the environmental education specialist for the State Department of Education, said that the bill would create space and scheduling problems for schools and that many do not have separate gyms.

"When you tell me there's no gyms, whose fault is that?" said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-Southern Maryland, the chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, and co-sponsor of the bill. "I'm just disappointed that you're here, you're supposed to be supporting the kids."

If enacted the bill would increase the current state average of 60 minutes of physical education per week to 150 minutes per week by the 2011-2012 school year.

For next year, public elementary schools would be required to provide a minimum of 60 minutes per week of physical education. The amount would increase by 30 minutes each year until it reaches the goal.

The current law allows each public school to have its own physical education program, so the amount of time that students spend in physical education classes varies widely throughout the 24 local school systems in the state.

Some schools provide 30 minutes of physical education per week, while a small percentage provide as much as 120 minutes per week.

But, no elementary schools provide the bill's requirement of 150 hours of physical education per week.

Jill Snyder, an attorney and mother of three young boys, spoke in favor of the bill. She said she does not think that the current amount of physical education in school is enough for her sons, two of whom are in elementary school in Baltimore County.

Her sons receive 50 minutes a week of physical education at Fort Garrison Elementary School, but Snyder said this was not enough because they often have too much homework to play at home before it gets dark.

"I graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown (University) and was able to play outside as a child until dinner time," she said. "When I walk into my children's classroom I see more obese children and they're not going to get healthier as they get older."

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