The Utah State Board of Education just gave Utah middle schools permission to make health, physical education and art classes optional.
No school should take the board up on that.
To the extent this change was about giving districts the freedom to tailor their own health and arts education, then it’s on the schools to find a way to do exactly that. But if any of them decide that instruction isn’t necessary, their students will pay the price.
In backing the change, Board Member Lisa Cummins argued that, unlike math and English, health class has not been declared essential.
“There are certain things that we have decided as a society are valuable for our students. We haven’t had that conversation about health, about computer literacy.”
Actually, we’ve been having that conversation for many years, and the conclusion hasn’t really varied. Adolescents need a well rounded curriculum of both practical and academic subjects. Let them get to high school before they start specializing.
One irony is that the decision came at a meeting where board members heard about a very significant threat to children’s health. Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, told board members that the state’s SafeUT, a suicide-prevention and school-safety mobile app, has been used by students so often that it has overwhelmed the social workers who maintain it. And despite those connections, suicide remains the top cause of death for Utahns aged 10 to 18.
And physical education in middle school? OK. Few things can lay bare the tender feelings of inadequacy like junior high gym. But that’s an argument for a more holistic approach to physical education, not a reason to dump it. Adolescents need to be physically active, or they’ll burst at the seams.
No one on the board opposes these classes, of course. This is sold as delivering local control so the state isn’t making one-size-fits-all decisions. The schools still would be required to offer the subjects, but they can make them electives.
Taming bureaucracies is noble, but in this case one size really does fit all, just like with math and English. Leaving out some subjects for some students will limit them later when they have to compete with those who did get that instruction.
This change should be watched. If Utah middle schoolers are going without these crucial subjects, the board should go back to requiring it.