Bills get students out of their seats

column-lawmakingThe Senate advanced two bills last week which help ensure that students get more physical activity in schools, including the Tom Cronan Physical Education Act, which requires each student in elementary school to participate in a physical education class (PE) at least twice a week for a combined total of no less than 60 minutes. Senate Bill 558, approved by the Senate Education Committee, is sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

Obesity is one of the most pressing health concerns in Tennessee. The state ranks 49th in the U.S. in physical inactivity and 47th in obesity. The percentage of overweight/obese students is highest for 6th graders.

“Evidence shows that children who are physically active and fit tend to perform better in the classroom,” Ketron said. “It improves their concentration, cognitive functioning, and self-esteem, not to mention the health benefits by establishing healthy habits at an early age. It’s time to change the culture of the school to blend academics and PE.”

Tenn. Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
Sen. Mark Norris

Under the legislation, the PE class must be taught by a teacher with a physical education endorsement and must meet the needs of students, including those with disabilities. The legislation also requires local education agencies (LEAs) to verify compliance with the act annually.

The bill is named for the late Dr. Thomas Cronan, who was Professor Emeritus of Exercise Physiology at Carson-Newman College and a lifelong promoter of wellness. He was the husband of former University of Tennessee Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan, who, with Coach Pat Summitt, led the Lady Vols to multiple national basketball championships.

“The Tom Cronan Physical Education bill will make a difference in young people’s lives,” Mrs. Cronan told committee members. “The facts show one in three of our school children is obese. Seventy-four percent are not ready to go to the military. … One of the things that Coach Summitt taught us is that discipline makes a difference. I think when we look at our elementary students and what they can do to get better and represent us, not only in the military, but in life, I feel strongly that physical education provides that.”

U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Eden Murrie, a Nashville resident, testified about physical education and obesity as it affects national security. “We need today’s youth to be ready to successfully serve our nation tomorrow in the armed forces or in a variety of different ways. As simple as it sounds, PE is a necessary tool for our youth,” she said.

Obesity is the leading medical disqualification in the armed forces with nearly one out of three young people being too overweight to serve.

The PE bill works in conjunction with legislation approved by the full Senate earlier last week, clarifying Tennessee’s law regarding school recess requirements. Senate Bill 662, sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), requires a minimum of 130 minutes of physical activity each school week for elementary school students and 90 minutes for middle and high school students. The legislation provides that physical activity must be at least 15 minutes to qualify as recess to ensure a benefit to the student. It also ensures that recess does not replace current PE programs.

The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives, now goes to the governor for his signature.

By Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who can be contacted by email to