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By a narrow margin -- and over the protests of some residents -- Lancaster School Board members Monday decided that physical education grades will count as part of students' overall final averages.

The board, in a 4-3 vote, put to rest the controversial issue of including physical-education grades in students' final averages, a topic that has been hotly debated in the district for the past two years.

Last year, the district took the first step by switching from letter grades to numerical grades for physical-education classes, but the grades have never counted toward final averages until now.

Barbara Wyse, chairwoman of the district's physical education department, has advocated including the grades, noting that excluding physical education from the overall average of a student makes the department and its subject matter seem to have an inferior status.

Ms. Wyse said a petition circulated among students at the high school resulted in 750 signatures in favor of including gym grades and 72 signatures against the idea.

Prior to the vote, a handful of residents spoke against the inclusion, saying it would hurt the overall averages of top-of-the-class students, especially those looking for college scholarships.

"There's a big difference in the amount of money that's offered in scholarships between an 89 and a 90 average," said Schoolhouse Road resident Sue Metz.

"And it's not just the top kids that are affected; it's the other kids, too. It's a big deal in scholarship money."

Helen Schoff of Windsor Ridge Drive said she feels physical education is important but not in terms of academic achievement in preparation for the job market.

"It doesn't really matter when you get out into the real world," she said. "There are doctors and lawyers out there in bad physical shape, and it doesn't affect the way they use their skills. . . . This is just not valid."

Julie Monheim of Argus Drive asked the board how many students would see their overall averages decrease as a result of including gym grades.

"Maybe we're putting the cart before the horse," she said. "Maybe we should take these things into consideration before we vote on this."

Superintendent Joseph Girardi recommended including the physical-education grades at last month's School Board meeting, but action on his suggestion was halted when Trustee Lorraine Bona suggested that the board examine a pass/fail option for students taking gym and electives.

Shortly before Monday's vote on including physical-education grades, the board agreed to send the pass/fail idea to the high school's Building Planning Team for further consideration but refused to again table the physical education grade issue.

A motion by Trustee William Janiga to postpone a vote until the end of the school year was defeated by board members, 4-3.

"This board has been criticized for not being able to make the hard decisions," Ms. Bona said.

"No matter what decision we make, we're going to have people who love us and people who hate us. . . . I think the issue needs closure."

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