They came dressed for play.
Parents in sports uniforms, cheerleading garb and plenty of spirit attended the Jan. 18 Prince William County Public School board meeting, asking school board members to consider providing more physical education and recess time to elementary school students.
About 50 parents and their children, organized by Woodbridge mom Barbara Larrimore, supported about 10 individuals who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Larrimore, who has children at Lake Ridge Elementary School, started a Facebook page and a petition on Change.org, asking parents and others to attend the meeting.
Larrimore, who also spoke during the public comment session, asked school board members to examine if county students should obtain more opportunity for exercise and play during the school day.
She also lined up speakers knowledgeable about the need for children to exercise.
BJ Brown, who holds master’s degree in Kinesiology and Health Services Management from Virginia Commonwealth University, told school board members one in three children in areas of Virginia have been labeled as having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), noting children who are given drugs for this are at risk of being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disease.
Brown has also authored a paper, “An Epidemic of ADHA and other misdiagnosed childhood mental illnesses” for the Virginia Commission on Youth, which is the basis for HJ682, currently under study by the Virginia House of Delegates.
“Due to No Child Left Behind we took out recess, PE and breaks for children. They now have longer schedules than adults,” she said.
Robin Gahan, a senior director for government relations with the American Heart Association in Richmond, said it is important to increase the amount of time a child spends physically active.
“PE is an important way to increase the health and wellness of every child, regardless of their zip code,” she said. She noted only 26 percent of children in Virginia ages 6-17 participate physical activity daily.
“Yet research shows that PE improves attendance, test scores, motivation to learn and reduces referrals,” she said.
Amy Nshuti, a pediatric registered nurse at All Pediatrics in Lakeridge, said the practice sees an increase in the number of referrals for children suspected of having ADHD from schools at the beginning of each school year, mostly because kids aren’t paying in attention in class. She contrasted schools in the county with those in Africa, where she grew up, where it was common to have 60 students in a class.
AHDH wasn’t a factor there, she noted.
“We didn’t have the same issues because we had regular exercise,” she said.
Others, including parents of Prince William County elementary school students, said the amount of classwork without an opportunity to play and exercise were causing discipline issues at times.
School board members normally don’t comment during public comment, and didn’t in this case.
“I thought it went great,” Larrimore said after the meeting, although she expressed disappointment many of the school board members left during the public comment section.
Philip Kavits, the director of communication services for Prince William County Public Schools, did not respond to repeated requests for information about the county’s policies in following Virginia guidelines for physical education and recess, or if individual schools have flexibility in providing physical education instruction.
Contact Craig Macho at [email protected]