High school student athletes no longer will be required to take gym class.

High school student athletes no longer will be required to take gym class.

The Worthington school board voted 4-1 on Monday, Feb. 11, to exempt from physical education credit requirements all students who participate in a sport, marching band or cheerleading. Board President David Bressman cast the lone dissenting vote.

Currently, all students must complete 0.5 credits of physical education as a graduation requirement. Obtaining that credit requires two semesters of gym.

Worthington is one of the last districts in central Ohio to approve the exemption, which has been allowed by state law since 2006.

Proponents of the change said students involved in sports already get enough physical activity, and the waiver would give them time in their schedules to take other courses.

But at the Jan. 28 board meeting, when the waiver was introduced, a long line of students and teachers spoke of the value of the district's physical education classes and urged the board to vote against it.

Today's high school physical education classes are not like gym classes of the past, said physical education teacher Margo Postak. Today's choices include yoga, flex and tone, Wellness 4 Life and FAST.

Such courses teach lifetime lessons in nutrition, exercise and stress relief, she said.

"If we adopt the exemption policy, the message being sent to our students is that because they participate in a sport, march across the field or tumble on grass, they are physically fit and educated for life," she said. "This is far from the truth."

Thomas Worthington High School cross country runner Cheyenne Buckingham said she runs 40 to 50 miles a week, but it is yoga class that helps her stay calm and gives her insight on nutrition.

Nathan Grover is a 17-year-old self-professed "band geek" who also told the board of the value of yoga in his life.

"It is one of the most beneficial courses I've ever taken," he said.

Parent Mike Smith said all four of his children would qualify for the exemption, but not requiring them to take physical education would be a mistake. The classes may be the only time students are exposed to the lessons taught in classes such as yoga and strength training, he said.

Michael Troper was the only speaker in favor of the exemption at the Jan. 28 meeting. He said his son, a junior at Thomas Worthington, already gets enough physical education from playing sports. His son should be able to take more Advanced Placement courses or computer science instead of physical education, he told the board.

All of the board members agreed the physical education classes at the high schools are valuable, but four said they favored the exemption.

"Student choice is the overriding factor in my opinion," said board member Marc Schare.

Passing the exemption also might take pressure off parents to pay for summer school physical education courses, which many students take to meet the graduation requirement. Board member Julie Keegan said parents have contacted her asking why they had to do that.