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Parents ask state to force Buffalo schools to offer more physical education

Buffalo Public Schools parent leaders say they’re tired of waiting for the district to fully implement its own health and wellness policy, adopted more than a year ago. They’re now taking their case to the state.

The Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo and the District Parent Coordinating Council are sending a letter to the state Education Department asking that the department force the district to abide by state requirements mandating more physical and health education for students.

“They’re clearly out of compliance with state regulations,” said Jessica Bauer Walker, executive director of the Community Health Worker Network of Buffalo and chairwoman of the DPCC’s Health Committee.

Although the district has made strides in improving school nutrition since the wellness policy was adopted in April 2012, elementary schoolchildren still receive less than a fourth of the physical education classes they are supposed to get under state rules.

Wendy Mistretta, who has two children in third and fourth grades at International School 45, said her third-grader only gets one 30-minute period of gym every six days. Her fourth-grader gets two periods of gym every six days. Neither child gets any recess.

That not only hurts children’s health and socialization skills but also leaves them less able to learn in class, she said.

“It’s completely illogical, impractical and unethical perhaps to have kids sit for six hours a day,” said Mistretta, who is a DPCC parliamentarian.

Parent leaders say the district fails to comply with these state mandates:

• Physical education classes totaling 120 minutes each week for children in kindergarten to grade six.

• An updated, age-appropriate, year-to-year health curriculum for students in all grades.

• Health education courses consistently taught by teachers with health education certification for children in grades seven through 12.

Although recess is not a state education requirement, the district’s 2012 wellness policy requires that all children in prekindergarten through sixth grade receive daily recess periods.

Walker said parents decided to appeal to the state after reviewing the district’s approved 2013-14 budget and seeing that no new gym teachers are slated to be hired to meet state requirements for physical education.

“We can’t wait any longer in this situation while our children suffer,” she said.

School Board member Jason McCarthy, who claimed the district’s new wellness policy as one of his key achievements when he ran for re-election this year, said he, too, is disappointed that the district hasn’t made more progress in implementing it.

“Our job is not to police the policy,” he said. “That’s why we hired the superintendent. It’s her job to implement it.”

District spokeswoman Elena Cala said the district hopes to move into closer compliance with state rules by training elementary school teachers to provide more physical education for students next school year.

The district is also developing an updated student health curriculum, she said.