Is Your Kid Missing Gym Class?

When kids are excused from PE, they miss out on healthy physical activity.

kids running in gym class
Alistair Berg / The Image Bank / Getty Images

I'll admit it: Earlier this week, I wrote a note asking for my middle-schooler to be excused from gym class on a day when she really could have participated. It wasn't right, but I knew she would get her daily dose of physical activity in other ways. And it's something I do only very rarely.

Unfortunately, far too many kids aren't going to gym class regularly—or even at all. That means they lose out on an important opportunity for physical exercise, along with exposure to sports and fitness activities they might enjoy and a break from the daily academic grind.

School districts in the United States "allow students to be exempted from physical education for a variety of reasons," says the School Health Policies and Practices Study (or SHPPS), which is conducted periodically by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess school health policies. "Exemptions decrease the perceived importance of and support for participation in physical education for all students and also reduce opportunities for students to accumulate more physical activity in their daily lives." If your kid, or your school district, is using one of these excuses, it's time to push back so your student gets the healthy activity she needs.

1. Gym class isn't required.

While the great majority of school districts make physical education a requirement, about 10% don't, according to the latest SHPPS report. That could mean hundreds of schools that don't have to offer PE.

2. Your child was excluded from gym class for bad behavior in other classes.

About 70% of school districts prohibit, or at least discourage, this practice—which means more than a quarter allow it.

3. Your child has a physical, medical, or intellectual disability.

Certain injuries, such as concussion, require a temporary absence from gym class.

If your child has longer term special needs, he still needs physical activity. He could get it through inclusion in a traditional class; through adapted classes or equipment; or with the help of a teaching assistant. This should all be spelled out in your child's 504 plan or IEP.

4. Gym class was cancelled for test prep or other academic priorities.

The SHPPS found that up to 20% of schools allow students to be excused from PE so they can prepare for tests, complete remedial work, or receive instruction in another class.

5. Your child is taking online PE.

Yes, online PE is an option for some students. And sometimes it's a very good one. Just be wary if it's something your school district is using to mask a lack of resources for traditional gym classes.

6. Your child tested out of gym class.

Some schools exempt students from physical education if they have achieved "positive, passing, or high physical fitness test scores," according to the SHPPS. This makes sense for some teens who are physically fit and active and will continue to be active even if they aren't attending gym class regularly.

7. Your child participates in sports or other school activities.

In some schools, kids can be excused from gym class if they also participate in community or school sports, or even other school activities like band or choir.

8. Your child is busy with community service or vocational training.

There is only so much time in the school day, and sometimes something has to give. If this exemption applies to your kid, make sure she's getting sufficient physical activity outside of school.

9. Your child doesn't participate in gym class for religious reasons.

Again, if this is the case in your family, find other ways for your child to be physically active—if not every day, then at least several days a week. (Ideally, both kids and teens should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.)

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