KRISTY DEER Daily Reporter
---- — NEW PALESTINE, Ind. (AP) — For the past four years, New Palestine High School seniors Alec Moeller and Madison Garrity have spent many hot summer days — an estimated 1,000 hours’ worth — practicing as part of the school’s marching band.
The two longtime band members say it just makes good sense for students who spend so much time and physical effort in summer band to receive physical-education credit for their efforts.
A group of band parents recently took their case to the school board. The parents asked that their children — whose physical exertion arguably tops that in many gym classes — to be able to apply their participation in the extra-curricular activity to class credit for PE.
They argue the students would be freed to take other classes if their work in band counted toward PE requirements. That idea is endorsed in the one country district where the practice is allowed. But skeptics of the idea point to several factors — from legal questions to the precedent such a move would set — as reasons why it doesn’t work.
As far as students are concerned, however, it’s a no-brainer.
“I took summer gym and had marching band at the same time, and it was such a full day,” said Madison, who plays saxophone. “It was so exhausting to do that much physical activity, and at the time I thought, ‘Gym was just kind of pointless.’”
Alec said many students aren’t as athletically gifted as some and don’t perform well in PE class. They should have the option to earn a PE credit for summer marching band, he said. Those students get more than their fair share of physical activity, he added.
“Summer marching band is hard work,” Alec told the Daily Reporter.
Had he been able to earn PE credit for the many hours of lugging his tuba during summer band, Alec said he wouldn’t have had to take the required two PE classes. That would have freed his schedule to take extra music classes, which he loves.
“I’m going to college, and I want to major in music education,” he said. “I would have taken more classes that really matter.”
Eastern Hancock High School is the only county school district that allows students the option to use extra-curricular activities such as band or sports to count toward a full physical education credit.
It’s what band boosters and members at New Palestine would like to see happen for students who participate in summer marching band.
“We’d like to give our kids the opportunity to take more AP (advanced placement) classes instead of having to take PE when they’ve worked hard all summer,” New Palestine band director Shawn Humphries said.
The parents who went to the Southern Hancock School Board presented statistics documenting just how much exertion the band members go through: They average more than eight hours a day on the practice field for 31 days. That equates to 253 hours during the summer. That compares to 100 hours for the typical physical education class, they pointed out.
There is precedent for approving extra-curricular activities for PE credit, parents told the school board.
In 2009, the State Board of Education made several rule changes, including the definition of credit. The intent was to allow schools more flexibility in working with students and engaging them in challenging curriculum. Students using the credit flexibility options must still meet the academic standards of the courses Physical Education I and II.
“It is being done at other schools, and in our minds, we are hopeful that it can be done here in New Palestine,” parent Jay Moan said.
Eastern Hancock Principal Dave Pfaff said his district thought the flexible option was perfect for his students.
“We’ve found that it allows our kids to take more math or other classes,” Pfaff said. “We felt it was a win-win all around and was a pretty common-sense thing we could do for our kids.”
Greenfield-Central High School Principal Steve Bryant said the school researched the issue several years ago but opted against the credit flexibility option for PE because of legal concerns.
“We don’t allow any sport or anything where there is a lot of physical activity to count for credit,” Bryant said. “We were told by our legal counsel because we charge a participation fee, they advised against it.”
The thinking is accessibility to class credit should not be based on extra fees because not everyone can afford them.
While Southern Hancock does not charge a participation fee for band, members do pay transportation costs and pay for other expenses throughout the year.
Pfaff said Eastern Hancock also charges a transportation fee to students who participate in sports and band but has encountered no legal issues.
“We’ve made it so no one is denied a chance to take part if they can’t pay for it,” Pfaff said.
Regardless of the hours some students dedicate to band or an afterschool sport, Mount Vernon High School Principal Bernie Campbell is against the idea of letting any extra-curricular activity count for high school PE credit.
“There are way too many health concerns for kids nowadays, and we need to stay on top of that,” Campbell said. “I’ve looked at the PE curriculum, and not only does it require a certain number of activity hours, it also requires many hours of study and education.”
Allowing students to earn PE credit for something they chose to do such as band or football also minimizes the efforts of highly trained, licensed PE teachers, Campbell said.
New Palestine High School Principal Keith Fessler said a curriculum committee composed of Southern Hancock educators would need to recommend the flexible credit option.
One of the big questions, he said, is determining whether band students should be the only ones to have the flexible-credit option.
“We’d have to consider kids that play football, basketball and other sports, but I am certainly willing to look into it,” Fessler said.
Several years ago, when Fessler was an assistant principal at NPHS, he said, a committee discussed it but found too many obstacles and noted the district’s code-of-conduct policy for extracurricular activities was a stumbling block.
Pfaff said there are consequences for bad behavior, but troubled students are never in danger of losing a credit unless they are a repeat offender.
While state law requires high school physical education to be instructed by a licensed teacher, Eastern Hancock gets around that issue by allowing PE teachers to supervise students taking part in the flexible credit option.
“We do an evaluation halfway through the sport or season to make sure the students are meeting certain criteria,” Pfaff said.
Southern Hancock Superintendent Jim Halik said he’s concerned about giving special privileges to the music department. Only an estimated 60 to 70 students participate in band, out of 1,100 students in the school.
“When you make exceptions, you need to meet the needs of the majority of the students, not a minority,” Halik said.
Humphries surveyed high schools in Indiana and found more than 30 have opted for flexible credit.
“We found that there were many schools in Indiana that let kids get credit for PE through summer band, winter jazz and other things, and that’s what we want,” Humphries said.
Halik, who said PE is required by the state for a reason, plans to have his staff look further into the credit option.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the research they have done,” Fessler said.
Pfaff said his district feels certain high school students are getting the full physical-education experience through after-school participation, whether it be band or sports.
“The lessons of PE are expecting kids to do physical activities, learn about being part of a team and staying healthy,” Pfaff said.