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Clarification of the Massachusetts Physical Education Requirements

To:Superintendents of Schools
From:David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education
Date:April 20, 2000

We have received a number of questions from school officials and others about the Massachusetts law on physical education, which is contained in MGL Chapter 71, Section 3. The law states that "Physical education shall be taught as a required subject in all grades for all students in the public schools for the purpose of promoting the physical well-being of students."

In 1996, the Board of Education repealed regulations that had mandated minimum annual hours of instruction for physical education. However, Chapter 71, Section 3 remains the law of the Commonwealth, and it requires physical education to be taught in the public schools as a required subject for all students in all grades. The change that resulted from the repeal of the regulations is that school officials have the authority to determine the hours of instruction for physical education, as they do for all other subjects of instruction.

A well-planned physical education program is an important part of every child's education. The results of the 1999 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Physical Activity cause us concern, since they indicate that among secondary school students:

  • Participation in school physical activity dropped sharply from 1993 {80%} to 1999 {61%}

  • All forms of physical activity were lower for grade twelve students than for grade nine students

  • According to weight/height ratio, 15% of adolescents were at risk of becoming overweight, and 7% were definitely overweight.

The Student Learning Time Regulations require public schools to provide a minimum of 990 hours of structured learning time for every secondary school student. Both physical education and health education classes are considered to be part of this structured learning time. Students' practice time in a sport, whether it is school sponsored, intramural, extracurricular, or in private lessons, is not considered "structured learning time" for purposes of the regulations.

The Massachusetts Health Curriculum Framework provides guidance on the elements of a sound program in health education and physical education. If you need further assistance, please contact John Bynoe, Administrator for Learning Support Services, at the Department of Education.

Last Updated: April 20, 2000
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