With all the high-stakes issues swirling around the Statehouse this year, a bill to let high school students fulfill their physical education requirement by marching in the school band might seem inconsequential. But it’s not.
For starters, South Carolina requires only a single high school P.E. credit for graduation. And students are already allowed to fulfill P.E. requirements online by completing the coursework and submitting a summary of their workouts, which can include data from activity trackers like Fitbit. Participating in ROTC or authorized military programs also can be substituted for P.E. So why not marching band? Anyone who’s participated in one can tell you it’s a physically demanding activity.
Well, P.E. instructors aren’t thrilled by the idea, which essentially revives a previously failed bill.
Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Camden, co-sponsor of S. 302 and who has a son in a marching band, told the Senate Education Committee he was well aware of the push-back from P.E. advocates “who want to protect their territory.” However, he said, he wanted to address something “I just think shouts for why this should pass.”
“Since we passed this bill previously, P.E. is now able to be taken online. So the whole argument, you know, that marching band doesn’t meet the criteria for P.E. is pretty laughable at this point,” he said.
The bill, approved in the committee and on the Senate floor, is now in the House and sprinting toward the finish line, attached as a proviso to the Department of Education funding bill. That improves its chance of making it to the governor’s desk.
According to the S.C. Band Directors Association, which backs the bill, the legislation would give time-pressed students more opportunities to take advanced classes or participate in extracurricular activities, including marching band. And to qualify for the credit, the marching band would have to meet state P.E. standards. Calisthenics would be part of the regimen. Bands typically practice 6-8 hours per week from late July through early November, and the workout they get from marching while playing musical instruments not only meets but exceeds state P.E. standards.
The South Carolina Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance opposes the bill and urges its members to write and call their legislators to stop it. The organization is, of course, concerned about protecting jobs, as is the band directors association. But the group also worries that, without P.E. instruction, students won’t develop life-long healthy habits.
That’s a fair argument, but marching a mile or more while blowing a tuba or beating a bass drum is a workout. A 150-pound person playing a musical instrument while marching could be expected to burn about 200 calories per hour. In a state beset by obesity-related illnesses, it’s important to teach students that workouts can take many forms, a key to sustaining their interest in fitness.
So if some South Carolina high school students want to march to the beat of a different drummer, we should give them that option.