BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - After much discussion at Thursday evening's meeting, the Berkeley Heights Board of Education will not pursue the Physical Education Opt-Out Policy at Gov. Livingston High School. 

The Gov. Livingston administration was asked to explore the opportunity to provide an "Option II" alternative for physical education to students who participate in high school athletics. This would allow students the opportunity to take a study hall while they are participating in a team sport. "Option II" permits boards of education to establish alternative curricular activities/programs aimed at achieving the Core Curriculum Content Standards for promotion and graduation purposes. "Option II" may include, but is not limited to, one or more of the following: co-curricular or extra curricular programs, and/or other structured learning experiences. 

When looking to make a recommendation to change programs or policy, Superintendent Judy Rattner said she looks at the data provided and is required to ensure that all aspects of the district's operation are the board policy, state law and meet graduation requirements. She also advised the standing room only crowd at Thursday's board meeting that the educational programs are focused on educating the whole child and find opportunities for all students. 

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"We feel very strongly that our physical education program and curriculum that we have developed are an integral part of helping produce students that are really truly well rounded children," said Rattner.

Athletic Director Ann Clifton presented the data that backs up the administration team's decision to not recommend that "Option II" be offered to Gov. Livingston student athletes at this time.  Click here to view the presentation. 

The presentation outlined the state requirements stating that state law mandates students grades 1 through 12 must participate in a health, safety, physical education course. The grade, as in other courses or subjects, and the standing of the pupil shall be a part of the requirements for promotion or graduation.

The pros to the Option II policy would provide a student athlete with time to dedicate to pursuing academic rigor and provide a student athlete with time in a busy day to allow them to complete academic assignments.

However, there are many logistical cons to pursuing this policy including:

  • How to manage the continuous flow of students in and out of Physical Education classes. The students will need to report back to Physical Education class immediately after their last athletic competition concludes.
    • Grading completed by non-physical education certified staff (e.g. coaches).
    • Attendance records and crowded study halls.
    • Potential for students to have 172 minutes without direct instruction versus 116 minutes.

The Gov. Livingston handbook states that students must carry 35 credits or seven classes per semester out of an 8 period day. Students have the choice to take a study hall or alternatively, they can take a full course or an elective course. The 2015-16 Gov. Livingston Student Athlete statistics show that 80 percent of student athletes take a study hall and 20 percent of student athletes did not have a study hall.

Many students and parents stood in line to have their turn to approach the board on the topic. While many students showed their support of keeping their phys ed class, stating their various reasons as to why they believe attending phys ed is important to the "whole student." There were a handful of students that stated they would like the opportunity to have an option.

Jimmy Pitingolo, the Gov. Livingston representative to the Board said that he is in favor of having an option. "I swim and have a pretty tough course load, so for me personally, this would be a good program because I chose to take other classes instead of study hall," said Pitingolo. ---"I think it would be useful for any student that choose to opt out without really hurting  the phys ed program because there aren't many students that would. Students get exercise and learn teamwork and sportsmanship from the school sport. For the student athletes that choose not to take study hall for whatever reason, they are already giving up 8 to 10 hours a week towards their sport outside of school and this time could be used for homework, especially for juniors. They would probably find this time very valuable if they use it well. Maybe not a lot of students will do this and will arguably make it easier to implement. But at least the opportunity is there for the students that might really need it and I'm sure there are students that would use it."

Gov. Livingston senior and board representative Amanda Johnson stated that she has benefited from having a study hall in her schedule to get work done. "Throughout high school I have always been able to take all of the academic classes that I wanted and still have room in my schedule for study hall.  And I would personally not want to opt out of gym and replace gym with a study hall. I wouldn't want to lose study hall during health which is an entire marking period or in between sports season," said Johnson. "I know that some other athletes feel the same and have the same concerns. But I can also understand that other situations might benefit with this option." 

Board Members Christine Reilly, Helen Kirsch, Robert Cianciulli and Mountainside representative Jeane Parker agreed with the recommendation of the Superintendent and her administration to not pursue the "Option II" policy at this time.

Board member Chris Reilly was on the fence about the decision because she sees both sides, however, she had concerns of stigmatizing non-athletes or treating athletes differently. "At the end of the day, I have enormous respect for Judy Rattner and her team, and I would be inclined to go with their recommendation." 

Board member Jeane Parker, who also agreed with Rattner's recommendation, suggested the administration incorporate some of the suggestions into the curriculum.

"On the whole, I support keeping the curriculum the way it is and not having an opt out," said Board member Helen Kirsch. "I have real concerns about changing the policies and have great respect for our administrative team."

Board member Denis Smalley believes there are a lot more questions and he would have liked to send back to the administration for more review. "I'd like to make an informed decision with all the information in front of us," said Smalley.

Board member Bill Cassano addressed the misunderstanding of the implications of the "Option II" policy. "It is an option," said Cassano. "The thought was not to add a second study period.. it is to add a study period when there was not one. Or give that student that is taking a study period to give that student the option to take another class instead. Again, an option. If you are not taking a study period, it would alleviate the pressure during the season. When I saw this elsewhere, it seemed like there was no downside to it. Purely optional. Everyone could make it do what they need it to do for them. Or not utilize it."

Board President Doug Reinstein brought the discussion to a close. "I will accept the majority of the board, we should accept the recommendation of the Superintendent," said Reinstein. "I had a chance to speak with many people, in my 12 years on the Board, I am not sure if we have had such direct feedback on many topics as this one."

Reinstein reassured the room that the board does listen to the people on both sides. "There are other creative options -- ways we can get to the spirit of what Bill [Cassano] was trying to do and provide options. I encourage [the administration] to think creatively of how we can do the best for options." 

"I personally think there are merits," said Reinstein. -- "Take those thoughts and continue our entire program including our physical education program the best it can be." 

Next, the Finance Committee will meet on January 31 at 7 p.m. in the Music Room at Columbia Middle School to discuss the High School, Middle School, Athletic, Technology and Administration budgets.