Janesville could soon offer academic credit for sports

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, November 21, 2013

JANESVILLE—Janesville high school students who play sports could skip one of their required semesters of physical education, starting as soon as next fall.

A Janesville School Board committee considered the idea Wednesday and gave it a thumbs-up for further development.

Board member Bill Sodemann has been pushing the idea for years. The school board even voted to propose it to the state school board association, but it failed on votes at the association's conventions.

A recent change in state law allows school districts to give students a half credit of phy ed for playing sports, so Sodemann is pushing the board to make that a rule in Janesville.

The change would allow students more flexibility to schedule courses that match their interests and/or allow them to take more high-level courses, Sodemann said.

“I'm not in any way denigrating phy ed classes,” Sodemann said, but he noted sports can teach teamwork and other skills that phy ed doesn't necessarily offer.

One-half credit is equal to a semester course. The state requires 1.5 credits of high school phy ed.

Board member Kristin Hesselbacher, who often disagrees with Sodemann, was signaling touchdown for this idea. She said her son is trying to take all the science courses he can, but the phy ed requirement can get in the way as he sets his schedule.

Director of instruction Kim Ehrhardt said the high school phy ed departments don't oppose the change, but they do say their curriculum is more than just exercise and teaches skills that are different from those learned in sports.

“They need to make sure that every class they teach, then, is doing what they want it to do,” Hesselbacher said, noting that students would still have to take two semesters of phy ed.

One difficulty in developing a policy is how a grade would be assigned for sports participation.

Sodemann suggested pass/fail, but the state no longer allows that, Ehrhardt said.

Ehrhardt said the high school principals have asked that only sports sanctioned by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association be substitutes for phy ed.

Some suggested students be required to take more than one season of sports, but Steve Sperry, director of human and administrative resources, said it might be wise to stick with just one season.

If more than one season were required, it might be hard to track students' sports participation over the course of four years, and questions could be raised about the varying lengths of different sports' seasons, Sperry said.

A student could not register for a study hall instead of phy ed, Ehrhardt said. Students would have to take the substitute class in English, health, math, science or social studies.

Ehrhardt said he will take the idea to the principals and phy ed teachers for development of a proposal the school board could consider.

Students might be allowed to apply for the exemption as early as next fall, Ehrhardt said.

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