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With new gym class rules, Chicago schools try to get creative

Some Chicago elementary schools are having a tough time as they prepare to meet a new requirement that students receive 30 minutes of physical education each day.

One such school is Blaine Elementary in Lake View, which has one gym teacher for around 950 students. The school, already at 138 percent capacity, will not receive no additional funding from the district to help implement the daily mandate.

According to an analysis by the Chicago Teachers Union, 28 elementary schools have no gym teachers, and overcrowding and budget cuts have left many elementary schools without adequate facilities and equipment for physical education classes.

Jon Sikes, the physical education teacher at Blaine, says he currently sees students once a week for an hour. But because of the size of the school, Sikes doesn’t see every class each quarter. He estimates that Blaine would need to hire at least one additional full-time gym teacher and one part-time teacher to teach every class each week.

“We’re getting a similar budget to what we had last year, and that budget didn’t include an additional PE instructor,” he says. “Most of the funding being offered is being given to the high schools, so we’re trying to figure out how to work around the space and staffing issues. It’s tough.”

CPS plans to use part of a $21.5 million surplus in tax increment financing funds to hire physical education teachers for high schools. CPS has had a waiver since 1997 exempting junior and senior high school students from the physical education requirement. The waiver expires this summer. Although there has been no official waiver for elementary schools, many also routinely failed to meet the state’s requirement.

Realizing that many schools may struggle to implement the policy, CPS says it will phase it in; it will go into full effect in the 2016-2017 school year. This fall, school s will have to offer only an hour and a half of phys ed a week. CPS also says it will be flexible and allow schools to use alternative spaces, such as classrooms and cafeterias, for gym classes.

Read the full story on Catalyst Chicago.