Gym class opt-out program up and running at high school

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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Seventy-one students at Princeton High School have been cleared to opt of gym class in a move designed to give a break to students who play sports or are involved in a physical activity outside of school.
The district is testing a program created to help overworked students find time during the day to study, catch up on homework or meet with a teacher. Besides the 71 students OK’d for the program, the district said this week that it is considering applications from around 70 other students.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane on Tuesday said the district did not have a target number in mind for how many students would opt out of gym. Nor did he have a breakdown, by grade level, of how many students who have signed up.
The district this year created pathways for students, mostly in the two upper grades, to avoid having to take gym.
Juniors and seniors are eligible if they play a minimum of two varsity or junior varsity sports or play a sport and have off-season training in the same sport for 150 minutes per week. A third option, open to students at all four grade levels, is to be involved in an out-of-school hobby that involves around at least 150 minutes of physical activity during the week. The district has said students cannot opt out of taking health class, however.
School board president Andrea Spalla said Tuesday that she was “thrilled” to see the opt out program up and running.
Students will get a pass or fail grade for gym class and earn course credit, the district has said. Team coaches are responsible for taking attendance of their players, Mr. Cochrane previously said.
Officials have become increasingly concerned about students’ physical and mental well being and have sought to take steps to find ways to lighten the burdens they face in a competitive high school where expectations are high for students to do well academically and get into the best colleges. The district has mandated homework free weekends during various times during the school year.
Mr. Cochrane has made student wellness a focus of his administration in now his third year on the job. In fact, wellness education was one of the areas that enabled him to earn part of his merit bonus for the past school year.
The school board on Tuesday approved paying him a total of $19,532 in bonus pay. Because of a state mandated salary cap tying a superintendent’s salary to the size of a district’s enrollment, Mr. Cochrane’s salary is $167,500. But he can, and has, earned bonuses by meeting a series of goals that the school board sets for him.