DOE reassessment calls for additional PE hours

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Following a review of Townsend Harris’s schedule in relation to NYS graduation requirements, the DOE has notified the THHS administration that a number of juniors and seniors will need additional hours in Physical Education classes to be on track to graduate. The administration is working with the PE department to make schedule changes in the coming weeks that will create “the least amount of disruption” to current programs while putting students back on track for graduation.

“The DOE has been doing a regular review of physical education programming to ensure that courses are awarding the proper number of credits per course for students, and the reason for this is that over the years there have been challenges that students were not receiving the required time or frequency of Physical Education classes,” said Principal Brian Condon. “So when we were reviewed, we were informed that in order to offer the number of credits that we offer for physical education, we would need to add additional instruction per week.”

Athletic director and Physical Education teacher Lauren Caiaccia elaborated, “Townsend Harris has always organized the Physical Education classes to meet existing requirements under whatever schedule we’re following. However, due to the switch from the all bands meet every day schedule to the [block schedule], it impacted the way in which the state interprets our Physical Education program.”

In order to graduate, all high schoolers must earn four credits in PE. All Townsend Harris students take PE for seven semesters, with the remaining semester being allocated towards health. Although THHS students meet the state’s hourly requirements, most students’ PE classes do not meet five times a week, therefore not fulfilling the requirement that students have  “daily” PE.

“Our interpretation of the word ‘daily’ was, or is, that the number of days that classes meet each week. In our school, classes meet four times a week, so therefore, [PE] is a class like any other. If it meets four times a week, it’s meeting daily,” explained Mr. Condon. “The interpretation from [the DOE] is that ‘daily’ is literally daily: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. It’s a disagreement over the word ‘daily.’ It’s interpreted one way by one group of people and another way by another group of people. [The DOE] is requiring that we comply with their interpretation of the word ‘daily.’”

He added, “Although we disagree with the interpretation of this policy, and we are in conversation with the DOE about it, it’s important that we maintain the number of credits that you received for these courses so that at the end of your senior year you have the full four credits in Physical Education that you need. The decision is that students must have it daily, which means they must have Physical Education instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. So, if your [PE] class dropped out on Monday, then we have to find somewhere in your Monday schedule to fit the class now.”

For now, juniors and seniors are more likely to see changes to their schedules this year to ensure graduation requirements are met. Plans to ensure underclassmen schedules are in compliance for future graduation will come out at a later time.

The administration will finalize their plans and changes later this month. Mr. Condon said, “We’re going to have a conversation with [the children who will be impacted]. We’re going to put the change in writing and I’m happy to address any parent groups. We have a PTA meeting coming up in October, and I’m happy to address it there if there are any concerns. I think once the case is made and people understand what the challenge is and the approach we took to solve this problem, I think people will be comfortable with the results.”

News of the DOE’s reassessment leaked to students during some classes last Friday, earlier than the administration had planned. 

“It’s unfortunate the way it came out,” said Mr. Condon.

These leaks brought about several rumors that have the student body concerned. Most rumors center around how the administration will add the additional hours to student programs, but the exact details of these plans remain under discussion. 

Nonetheless, students are expressing concerns.

“It’s unfortunate that kids have to spend additional time to add a few PE hours onto the necessities of graduation,” said junior Benjamin An. “I hope that the school finds a good and reasonable way to compromise.”

“Free periods are valuable opportunities to rest and catch up, or get ahead, on school work,” explained senior Daniel Shi. “Personally, I really value my free bands and would not want to be forced into a gym class during that time.”

“If I don’t have a first band class, then I’ll go do some college essay stuff, and now [I may not]have that time, which is obviously really frustrating, especially [if you’re] doing early action,” added senior Angelina Jimenez. “I don’t have those 50 minutes where I can focus in a school setting, assuming my first band gets taken away.”

“The policy and how it’s coming down is something we must do and we need to change. We are going to make the least amount of disruption to a student’s schedule as we possibly can,” said Veronica York, Assistant Principal of Guidance. 

Regardless of the challenges that these rumors pose, the administration pledges that it is working to find a solution that will satisfy both students and the DOE requirements. 

“I do believe our physical education program is among the best in the city,” said Mr. Condon. “I think it is a model program. However, we need to make sure that you guys are not short and [not have] fractional credits.”