SVSD Middle School Curriculum Change Leads to PE Cut, In Some Cases Below Required State Levels

Chief Kanim Middle School Principal Kirk Dunckel calls some new curriculum options this year as “giving an experience” to students. By that he means giving students a taste of more exploratory classes, versus being locked into just one class, like band or choir.

So when Snoqualmie Middle School closed and they knew Chief Kanim was going to be “big again,” they decided to implement some changes this year, moving from a trimester school year to a 4-quarters, and instead of requiring a full-year of PE and Health for all students, it became more of an exploratory class for some.  Twin Falls implemented the same changes.


By changing PE and Health from a full-year, required-of-all-students, schedules now have more room to “experience” other exploratory courses like Music Appreciation, STEM, Art and Tech.

When asked, parents may be okay with loss of PE instructional time, particularly if their child participates in organized athletics, but is the State of Washington okay?  If you dig, the answer appears to be no.  Does the state monitor all districts, ensuring required PE minimums are met?  That answer also appears to be no.

But according to state law, in grades 1-8, an average of 100 minutes of physical education instruction per week, per year is required. That equals a minimum 3,600 minutes each year and does not include health instruction, according to Lisa Rakoz of Washington State OSPI Department of Health and Fitness.  Yet reductions in PE instruction are occurring, and are now happening in the Snoqualmie Valley.

This year, the plan is to offer Chief Kanim and Twin Falls band and choir students one quarter (45 days) of physical education – roughly 2,000 minutes and below the required state minimum.  Both principals say they can offer another quarter of PE if requested, but Dunckel says so far only about two parents have requested that increase.

Some parents expressed frustration, saying they received no notification of the curriculum change.  Parents explained that when choosing exploratory rotations last year, they were not informed that by picking band or choir, their child would get less PE. Dunckel said he feels they did a good job of spelling it out for parents at 5th grade curriculum night and in CKMS communications.

At Twin Falls, though, some parents don’t know of their children’s full schedules yet, as many band and choir students have “blanks” in their schedules where PE and other exploratory classes will be added as new quarters approach. One Twin Falls counselor said to be fair, the school will randomly select those exploratory courses for band and choir students.

Band and choir students now receive one quarter each of PE  and Health, reducing PE injstruction by 75 days and health instruction by 15 days compared to prior years with full-year Health/PE. Students will substitute two quarters of exploratory courses for the reduced PE/Health.

Middle school students not in band or choir are not affected by the change to below required PE levels and receive more, sometimes a full-year, of PE and Health instruction, unless waived.

Affected students aren’t automatically offered the minimum minutes of PE instruction, but can instead opt in for more. State law, though, describes PE as a required instructional offering; the only curriculum course with instructional minutes attached to it; and according to law, can only be waived for specific reasons inclucding religion, physical disabilities or due to participation in directed athletics.

To be in accordance with state requirements, each SVSD middle school student would be provided two quarters of PE.  When asked if while building students’ schedules for 2013-14, were those two quarters of PE used as a starting point.  Dunckel said no, they were working to give more of a rounded exploratory experience, especially with a new 8th grade STEM Project Lead the Way course that can lead  to a 9th grade STEM class.

One Twin Falls counselor said the reduction in PE and health education is also due to building capacity and class size issues, explaining that if all students take PE (the historical norm), class size could reach large levels without an additional PE teacher on staff.

In the nearby Issaquah School District, PE is difficult to waive.  8th grade students wishing to take two, full-year elective courses (one in lieu of PE) can enroll in Independent PE/Health, complete with a stringent list of obligations, to full fill their PE requirement.

Currently, physical eduction instruction cuts are also occurring at Cascade View, the district’s largest elementary school with over 700 enrolled. Students are receiving  about half the required 100 weekly PE instruction minutes, having PE once a week for 40-60 minutes.

SVSD has a policy stating students will receive PE and Health  time consistent with state standards.  Snoqualmie Valley School District Policy 6700, adopted in 2010 says, “Students from Kindergarten through High School will participate in a quality, standards-based Health and Fitness program.  This program will provide the facilities, equipment, supplies and encouragement needed to deliver quality health and fitness education consistent with the state Essential Academic Learning Requirements. Time and frequency of Health and Fitness education will be consistent with current research and state standards.”


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  • This is another manifestation of a similar problem that SVSD and other school districts have with their general fund monies and associated budget plan…in this case, it’s limited instructional hours, class sizes, and teacher qualifications that drive priorities of class schedules, instead of limited funds & administration objectives that drive ad hoc (in SVSD’s case) or planned sending priorities.
    Where would parents & their kids prefer to spend this instructional time when faced with a choice of band/choir vs PE? How about STEM vs PE? Or computer lab vs PE? More engaging club athletics vs PE? How about outside of school more strenuous skiing or swimming vs PE? PE understandably loses out among the majority of parents & kids when you’re forced to make that choice, as there’s simply a limited number of instructional hours to engage students into learning what they need for improved success in life after K-8. Their visible vote on that is demonstrated by their class schedule signup requests. It’s not that PE isn’t viewed as valuable by parents & educators, it’s just viewed as simply not as valuable to compared to other classes or even “health” when thinking about what’s best for the kids’ future. There is a necessary priority at play when making these decisions.
    The solution to this conundrum can be as simple as getting WA state to reduce the PE requirement to something that better fits today’s situation in our public schools…or increase the number of instructional hours to accommodate presently required PE hours (ie, longer school day or year)…or provide the means to count outside school hours athletics among skiers, swimmers, lacrossers, etc, as a legal alternative toward meeting PE time. It appears pretty clear so far that our middle school principals are responding to what the majority of their parents/students want, in addition to what makes most sense in today’s world. But, there may be a bureaucratic battle looming between WA state & the growing number of school districts that are seemingly not in full compliance on this point (note that OSPI has not made an issue about this yet with districts, though, thus if they support the trend of their school districts it will likely be left to other state agencies to bring up), thus SVSD should be formulating the basis to defend their decision (as I’ll bet our sister districts are doing).

    1. Steven, I appreciate everything you’re saying. I think the missing component is that some parents did not realize that by choosing any exploratory option that they would receive less PE – as the historical norm in our district is that PE/Health was a full year course and then you chose your exploratory. WHat I hear from parents is that they feel there was a lack of communication… like hey, this is how it’s going to be different this year so discuss and consider everything. Washington actually requires half the amount of PE as California. It doesn’t seem the amount required is over the top – and physical education is about way more than physical activity. ~ Danna

      1. I agree with Danna on this one, with one caveat. I am more concerned with the District’s failure to abide by state mandates. It makes me wonder what else is going on. Surely, they had to know they were in violation. If not, it makes me wonder who is running the show!

  • Thank you for informing parents of this P.E. problem. My daughter attends Twin Falls and she is not in band or choir. She is being exempted from PE mainly because there is not enough room at Twin Falls for all 750 kids to take PE. Even with close to half the 8th Graders not taking PE for half of the year, PE class sizes are dangerously large. This is one of many reasons I opposed closing Snoqualmie Middle School. We also have kids being bumped out of math courses and into “lower math tracks” because we have too many kids and not enough teachers at Twin Falls.

    There is a reason PE is a State Requirement. First, PE is part of whole brain learning. Kids who take PE do better in school and better in life. We also have a national epidemic in childhood obesity which will only get worse when kids do not take PE. My daughter plays soccer several days a week so I am not worried about her. But the idea of skipping PE is basically ignoring State law.

    I agree with Stephen that kids also benefit from Math, Band and many other courses. We certainly need to do a better job of engaging students. But exercise may be more important to the lifelong well-being of our students than any other subject. It is therefore unlikely that the State legislature or OSPI would support lowering or eliminating the PE requirement,

    If I am elected to the school board, I will not only re-open Snoqualmie Middle School, but I pledge that I will honor ALL STATE LAWS – including the law that says 6th, 7th and 8th graders need to be taking PE.
    David Spring M. Ed., Parent, North Bend

  • Hi Stephen- Your post makes it sound as though the middle schools have cut PE for music students due to parent’s choice. Parents weren’t given a choice because parents weren’t notified of the change in programming. Visible vote by class sign-ups? There were no class sign-ups other than indicating if your child wanted band/choir or art/tech rotations. We didn’t get to “vote” which classes to take. If my child signed up for choir, then my child gets way less PE instruction then we would like. No notification, no registration and no vote. It seems that by making this overly complicated and secret was a way to avoid the fact they are not following OSPI rules.

  • We moved here from San Diego this summer and were very surprised at the lack of PE in the curriculum at Chief Kanim. Our last district had PE year round for all middle school students. PE was not just introduction into different sports but an actual program where kids were getting daily exercise. For many students, sadly, this might be their only opportunity to exercise during the day. Aside from PE, all students had at least one elective where they could do band, choir, or an exploratory option of doing three different subjects, digital photography, art, and health/sports recreation, for example. I can’t imagine that our schools here are worse off than CA. We moved here for the “better” schools. It’s sad. Hopefully this is just a temporary adjustment to the crowding that came with the 9th grade campus and will be resolved. Our CA middle school also had an academy curriculum where students could enroll in an extra elective at the end of the day , language, computer lab, etc…. Is it really so hard to provide a well rounded education for our kids? I remember having all kids of options in middle school as a kid.

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