Last August, the Utah Board of Education caused a clamor when it voted, seemingly out of the blue, to remove minimum credit requirements for middle school health, gym, art and music classes. Shortly after its decision, Rep. Steven Eliason gave a presentation on youth suicide and encouraged the board to increase options for health education.
Few on the board seemed to realize the disconnect. After Eliason’s presentation highlighting the success of the SafeUT App, a suicide-prevention and school safety hotline, board member Brittney Cummins quipped, “[Students are] going to need it. Our board just voted to make health an elective in seventh and eighth grade.”
Utahns were quick to voice their disapproval over the board’s ill-advised decision. To its credit, the board held a hearing in September to listen to its critics. The Tribune Editorial Board joined in the voices arguing that designating health, gym, art and music classes optional for middle-schoolers would not improve their education, and would likely hinder their physical and emotional well-being.
The Board of Education listened.
Last week the Board decided to roll back its unpopular policy and approve an updated policy that would require art and health classes but would allow parents to opt out for students involved in similar extracurricular activities outside of school. A competitively trained ballerina would not have to waste time in her junior high’s beginning dance class. A student spending hours each day practicing an instrument could opt out of junior high music classes.
It’s a good compromise. It’s better to set a general rule and then deal with any exceptions on an individual basis.
For those students who are not professional dancers or musicians by age 12, middle school art and music classes may be their only introduction to such subjects. A well-rounded education must include humanities and health.
The arguments in favor of eliminating the requirements focused on each school district’s ability and right to set their own curriculum. But in today’s world, art, physical education and health classes are just as critical as math, English, science and history.
The board will now require that students complete “a course” in these subjects, as opposed to minimum credit hours the board previously required. Those who take private lessons or engage in extra-curricular activities may be able to fulfill the course requirement on their own time.
Of the improved policy change, board member Jennifer Graviet said, “It allows a well-rounded education and it increases the flexibility.”
It’s a win/win for families and schools alike.