Maryland Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) explains a bill that seeks to improve physical activity among elementary school students in Annapolis on Jan. 31. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Maryland Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) explains a bill that seeks to improve physical activity among elementary school students in Annapolis on Jan. 31. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — Delegate Jay Walker played collegiate and professional football, but he credits his days as a youth with fostering his love and ability for athletic competition.

That’s why Walker proposes elementary schools incorporate 150 minutes per week of physical activity. The figure includes a minimum of 90 hours per week in a physical education class as a way to improve health and decrease obesity and ailments such as diabetes.

“If our school systems will not take the lead and do it themselves, then we’re elected to do a job,” Walker said during a hearing Thursday on the bill before the Ways and Means Committee. “[Elementary students] are getting P.E. one day a week in some jurisdictions.”

According to the legislation, each public elementary school would designate a physical activity leadership team to plan and coordinate activities.

Matt Slatkin, a physical education middle school teacher in Montgomery County, said some sixth-grade students are out of shape.

“This is a moral obligation,” he said. “We are going through a crisis, an epidemic. It is time for you all to put the onus on these school systems to get this done.”

The American Cancer Society Action Network, which also supports the bill, proposes at least 150 minutes per week as a supplement to physical education in the schools. The organization said 17 percent of children ages 2-19 are obese, a figure increases to 32 percent when adding overweight children.

Prince George’s County had the third-highest number cases of diabetes in the state almost four years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The county noted in a 2018 report that it spends $95 million annually to fund its employee health insurance program.

Walker admitted some may express concern about the cost. According to a fiscal note, it could cost nearly $20 million next fiscal year and $21 million by fiscal 2023 to pay for staff and other resources.

The document outlines that dollar amount affects six counties: Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s and Somerset. That’s because school systems in those counties offer fewer than 90 maximum minutes of physical activity per week at any school and would need to hire additional personnel.

Prince George’s offers a maximum of 90 minutes per week, according to the fiscal note. It mandates six jurisdictions provide at least 100 hours such as Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Talbot County offers a minimum of 45 minutes per week, but the highest with a maximum of 120 minutes per week.

“The bill allows local school systems to apply for three-year extensions to meet the requirements,” according to the bill.

John Wollums, director of government relations with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said some jurisdictions may not be financially equipped to spend money just on this endeavor. For instance, the Anne Arundel County school board opposes the bill because an additional 45 physical education teachers would cost $3.5 million in fiscal 2020 and up to $3.8 million in fiscal 2024.

“This legislation would also require AACPS to reduce instructional time in other content areas, or increase the length of the school day to accommodate the new requirement,” Jennifer Ortiz, the school district’s counsel, said in a statement. “It is critical for a local board of education to retain the authority to address curricular issues for its schools.”

Delegate Nick Mosby of Baltimore City said some states have already implemented physical activity in schools.

“We’re comfortable in putting a price tag on our children’s health,” he said. “That is just uncomfortable for me in understanding that. I don’t understand folks who care about children and the development of children in Maryland wouldn’t be in support of this.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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