Tallahassee, Florida - Florida lawmakers are debating whether they should scale back physical education for middle school students.
Legislation is moving ahead at the state Capitol that would eliminate the state's requirement for P.E. classes for grades 6 through 8. Currently middle schools must offer students the equivalent of one class period a day of physical education for one semester.
Supporters of the idea say it would give schools more flexibility with the courses they offer and students could choose other elective courses in place of gym class.
Opponents, including the American Heart Association, argue there's a critical need for P.E. because one of every three children in Florida is obese and too many kids are developing diabetes.
Teacher Jason Flom calls the proposed legislation shortsighted. He says research shows a direct correlation between physical activity and student achievement.
"If really the goal is that we want students to achieve then we need to give students the opportunity to be active and we know we need to make sure that students are active in order for that to happen."
Flom says he's seen the impact physical activity can have on students' focus in the classroom. Sometimes there are moments when they're dragging and struggling to grasp a lesson.
He says letting them take a lap or two around the playground increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain and that can have an immediate, positive effect on learning.
Flom adds that middle school is a crucial time when students start to develop health habits that can last a lifetime.
"It's there that we can crystallize behaviors that extend far into adulthood and into retirement even. Healthy habits starting then pay off in the long run for the students individually and for society as a whole."
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State lawmakers took action four years ago to reverse a decades-long trend of declining physical education in public schools. They passed a law requiring P.E. for grades K-through-8. However, parents can sign a waiver if they don't want their child to participate.