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McDonnell should sign Virginia bill requiring more gym class in schools

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; 5:47 PM

Grade-school gym teacher Valentino Taguding has witnessed the deterioration. In his 21-year career, he has seen the young physiques in his care soften steadily as children become more idle.

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"The muscle tone is not quite there. They're not as active," said Taguding, a physical education instructor at Island Creek Elementary School in southern Fairfax County.

So he and his boss, Principal Susan Owner, praised the goal of a state bill requiring a sharp increase in time that Virginia kids spend in PE class from kindergarten through eighth grade.

But the two educators worry about how the measure would work in practice. The biggest concern: What subjects would be sacrificed to free up the time?

"The school day is only so long," Owner said. "Music should be worried."

That sums up the key arguments for and against the bill, which Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is deciding whether to sign. Sponsored by a pair of doctors with seats in the General Assembly, the measure won overwhelming approval from lawmakers disturbed by the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

Despite the easy passage, the bill is drawing strong opposition from school boards, administrators and teachers unions, which are urging McDonnell to veto it. He hasn't said what he'll do.

I vote for signing it, thus forcing kids to run more relays, do more pull-ups and play more dodge ball. I say that even though I'm no jock. When I was in school, my worst grades were in gym (and handwriting), but I always enjoyed PE. It was fun, and I was vaguely aware that it was also good for me.

Gym class is more important now. Research confirms Taguding's impression that children are less fit than in the past. Nearly a third of Virginia children and teens are classified as overweight or obese, according to the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.

The reasons are numerous and well-known. Computer games have become more popular than tag. More kids commute to school by bus or car than on bikes or legs. They swallow too much sugar in their sodas and fat in their french fries.

First lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity one of her signature issues, and Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell is right there with her.

McDonnell, whose own vigorous physical activities once included time as a Redskinette, is a leading backer of the healthy youth foundation. Supporters of the bill hope she'll quietly urge her husband to approve it.

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