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Long IslandEducation

State audit faults physical education classes at LI, other NY schools

South Huntington and other school districts across the state failed to provide elementary students with adequate physical education time, the New York Comptroller's Office found.

South Huntington and other school districts across the state failed to provide elementary students with adequate physical-education classes, the state Comptroller's Office reported. 

South Huntington school administrators disputed several of the report's findings.  

The state audit, released Wednesday, also found that South Huntington and nine other systems included in a statewide sample did not develop physical-education plans that complied with state regulations. The audit was conducted during the 2016-2017 school year. 

The Comptroller's review noted, however, that South Huntington recently updated its plan to meet state requirements. Auditors also found that South Huntington and most other districts surveyed did provide sufficient physical training for students in grades 7-12.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said the audit’s findings regarding classes at the elementary level raised serious concerns. 

“As childhood obesity continues to plague our children, it’s more important than ever to get students moving and help them develop healthy lifestyle habits,” the comptroller said. “New York has set forth critical benchmarks that promote physical fitness and can foster improved academic performance, but they’re only beneficial if schools follow the requirements.”

South Huntington School officials responded that since the early 1980s the district actually has had a physical-education plan — a blueprint updated in 2005 and again this year. Local officials added they had begun recording student attendance in physical-education classes, to conform with recommendations from the Comptroller's Office. 

“We take it seriously,” said Superintendent David Bennardo. “We always had a physical-education plan. It’s updated now, and we’re in full compliance.”

State and local officials disagreed on the timing, however. 

Auditors  said the district updated its plan this year, after being informed of the state review. On the other hand, Jim Wright, who is South Huntington's supervisor of health, physical education and athletics, said the update took place before the district was told about the comptroller's audit. 

South Huntington enrolls 6,099 students and employs 26 physical-education teachers, according to the state.

The comptroller’s office, in its statewide review, drew on a random sample of 10 districts distributed geographically across the state. South Huntington was the only Long Island system included in the survey.

Only one district in the sample met all of the state’s requirements for students’ physical training, in terms of the number of  weekly sessions and minutes devoted to the subject at all grade levels. That was the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda, a system of 6,705 students in the Buffalo area.

Kenmore supplements physical training with a series of 10-minute educational videos shown to elementary students during classes, auditors said. 

State rules require 120 minutes of weekly physical instruction, divided into five sessions per week, in kindergarten through third grade. The requirement for grades four to six is 120 minutes per week, in three sessions.

For fifth- and sixth-graders, schools have the option of meeting standards set by the state for secondary grades. Those standards call for an average 90 minutes per week, alternating between two and three sessions per week, or a comparable amount of time.

In South Huntington’s case, auditors reported that the time provided by the district for students' physical training in kindergarten through fifth grade added up to just 67 percent of the minimum state requirement.

Wright, however, said the district actually provided 140 to 160 minutes of physical education in elementary grades — well above the state minimum. The state would not credit the district for the entire amount of time, he said, because it ruled that attendance records were inadequate. 

Wright said South Huntington's program emphasized the need for students to be physically active during classes. 

“It’s a full activity plan, not a video plan,” he said.  

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