High school district music changes strike a sour note

By Marsha Sutton

Sudden changes to the San Dieguito Union High School District music program have caused confusion and consternation among many students, parents and music supporters, some of whom are alarmed that the new regulations will harm the award-winning program.

To meet the district’s requirement for two years of physical education in both middle school and high school, many music students opted to take Independent Study Physical Education after school, which allowed them to take foreign language and music as their two electives.

Music students can still sign up for ISPE as an “extra” class, but the way ISPE will be administered is changing.

In the past, music teachers received a log from students periodically, which showed that kids exercised a certain number of hours each week, said Rick Schmitt, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of educational services.

Parents signed off on their children’s physical activity program, which often consisted of walking, jogging, surfing or other unsupervised activity. Music teachers accepted the parental verifications.

Schmitt said this is not legitimate, noting that a parent can’t supervise an internship or sign off on English or math for example. He said the same rules apply to PE, and the ISPE statute is clear.

“Music teachers can’t be giving credit for PE,” he said. “You must have it supervised by a professional, and they must have a million-dollar liability.”

Schmitt said other school districts have been sued after students were injured during ISPE under the supervision of non-professionals. The district is legally vulnerable, he said, because schools give credit for ISPE.

“We’re not going to allow any more unsupervised kids doing this because we’re liable, so we’re moving it to a supervised program,” he said.

So, beginning this fall, incoming seventh-grade students at the district’s four middle schools and all Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito Academy high school students can no longer have parents and music teachers sign off on ISPE. Music students can still sign up for ISPE, as an additional class, but it must be with a licensed professional who carries liability insurance.

The ISPE policy change will not affect this fall’s eighth-graders and students at Torrey Pines High School and La Costa Canyon High School until the 2013-2014 school year.

Licensed professionals can include insured professional coaches, but Schmitt said ISPE students don’t have to be athletes. Participation in any community organization such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, which offers scholarships, is also acceptable.

“The only thing that’s different is we’re not allowing music teachers to sign off on PE,” he said.

The application period for ISPE opened on April 6 and closes Aug. 17. The goal, a district letter states, is for all students to take regular PE, but the district recognizes that Independent Study PE might be more appropriate for several categories of students: exceptionally gifted athletes, students wanting to take an advanced course not offered by the district, students with an impacted schedule, those with medical conditions, and those who have already fulfilled their PE requirement.

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