WBUR 1 27 09 Pleasure Ridge Park High School
football player Max Gilpin died after an August football practice in a
Louisville, Ky. suburb. His coach, Jason Stinson, has been charged with
reckless homicide in Gilpin's heat-exhaustion-related death.
Guests: Antoinette "Toni" Konz, education reporter for The Louisville Courier-Journal, H.G. Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and Three Nights in August; contributing editor for Vanity Fair
Ellie's comment: Unfortunately, forced exercise is a common problem in schools and
sports programs -- and a special risk for students with asthma and
other disabilities. I wrote about the problem in 1991. After listening
to the show today, I decided to post my article on my website at
www.healthy-kids.info. I hope it encourages more parents to speak out
when they observe teachers and coaches who are unqualified for the role
of coach or teacher and who put children at unacceptable risk.
The Center for Effective Discipline
(CED) is a non-profit organization which provides educational
information to the public on the effects of corporal punishment of
children and alternatives to its use. It is currently the headquarters
for and coordinates both National Coalition to Abolish Corporal
Punishment in Schools (NCACPS) and End Physical Punishment of Children
In 1996, the Center became the
headquarters for End Physical Punishment of Children (EPOCH-USA) which
is a supporter of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment
of Children. EPOCH-USA seeks to end corporal punishment of children in
all settings including homes through education and legal reform.
PART I. Physical Education and the Student with Asthma
PART II. What Parents Can Do About Forced Exercise
This article was written in 1991. Some of the references cited below may be out of date or out of print. However, the problem of forced exercise still puts too many children at risk. PART I. Physical Education and the Student with Asthma
Forced exercise in physical education classes is a common problem for students with asthma and many other chronic conditions. Students may be forced or coerced into running laps or performing exercise drills as a form of discipline, to avoid grading or promotion penalties, to obtain privileges or rewards such as extra recess, class parties or trips, or to avoid harassment or humiliation.
Other problems schools impose on students with health impairments include being excluded from activities or overly restricted, being denied participation in sport teams or other extracurricular activities, being ridiculed for limited stamina or for using medication, having medication delayed or denied, and being ignored when in distress. Students also complain of spending medically necessary time outs conspicuously relegated to the sidelines, assigned to the detention bench or doing mind-numbing meaningless copy work.
In some cases, a teacher simply needs up-to-date information and education about asthma and specific guidelines for the student's safe participation. In other cases, changing negative attitudes, common practices or challenging a teacher's authority requires an organized campaign to change long-standing school policies and to upgrade standards.
According to the national American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), there are no policies nor professional standards regarding the use of forced exercise. However, there are professionals concerned about its use.
"More subtle than paddling but also much more prevalent is the use of excess exercise as a motivation or discipline technique," said Linda Jean Carpenter, PhD. J.D., Professor of Physical Education, Brooklyn College and Member, NY State, U.S. Supreme Court Bars, quoted in The Last? Resort, the newsletter of the Committee to End Violence Against the Next Generation, Winter, 1989-90.
"When a student misbehaves or poorly performs a skill, the teacher often motivates/punishes the student by demanding an extra 25 pushups or five laps. The pedagogical rationalization for using such excess exercise...is weak at best. Using exercise as punishment teaches the student to see the very activity that we try to characterize as healthful and good, to be a humiliating or painful punishment and thus something to be avoided. Using exercise as punishment can sometimes result in a total exercise load which is harmful. For instance, a less skilled, less conditioned student who is ordered to perform an extra five laps because of lagging behind in an activity may already be overtaxed. There is little difference if the corporal punishment is performed at the hand of the teacher (paddling) or is self-administered on the orders of the teacher (excess exercise). It is still an assault on the body, if not also on the spirit (when humiliation or verbal abuse is included) and reflects a lack of professionalism and creativity on the part of the teacher or coach."
Often, the use of exercise as punishment has nothing to do with disruptive conduct or a breach of school rules. According to cases cited in The Last? Resort, students are frequently punished for minor infractions such as forgetting their gym shorts, giggling or talking, being slow, or simply being last in line.
The Summer 1990 issue describes the case of a student with a heart defect, punished for being slow to line up, who died during a "gut run" which involved trying to run approximately 1000 feet over very rough ground in less than two minutes. Note: In addition to the heart defect, the student had a learning problem, one leg shorter than the other, a leg brace and poor balance. The teacher had ordered him to do the run although the student protested and school records contained a doctor's note specifying that he be treated as a normal child but be allowed to pace himself and rest when he needed to. Previously, the same teacher had imposed the "gut run" on a student with asthma bringing on a severe attack.
Surprisingly, less than half of the states and only a few cities have prohibited the use of corporal punishment in school. And even then, the prohibition may not be understood to include forced exercise. The language in the following statement, clarifying the definition of corporal punishment in the California law, may be useful to others working to establish professional standards or to limit corporal punishment and forced exercise in their school district or sports programs.
"We believe that the prohibition against corporal punishment extends to any and all forms of willful pain infliction and that this conclusion is clear from the plain language of the statute, particularly the definition of `corporal punishment'... We further note that the prohibitory language...extends not only to the direct infliction of pain (e.g., by paddling) but also causing pain to be inflicted.”
“Our conclusion is bolstered by the exclusion of physical pain or discomfort caused by athletic competition or other such recreational activity, voluntarily engaged in by the pupil... It would seem clear that willfully causing physical pain through forced exercise is prohibited in all school contexts with the exception of the pain or discomfort which in inherent in certain types of physical education, intramural or interscholastic sports program -- and then only to the extent which would be consistent with an appropriate training regime. It is the causing of pain which is prohibited -- not the particular method or methods by which it is caused.”
Our conclusion further derives from the statement of legislative intent found in Education Code section 49000 which emphasizes the vulnerability and impression ability of school children, the integrity and sanctity of their bodies, and the need to prevent such forms of punishment which would not be tolerated if inflicted upon adults. Obviously, should there be any doubt concerning whether or not a particular action by a school district employee has the effect of causing physical pain on a pupil, the course of action most consistent with the legislative intent would be to forgo such action.
“While we offer no opinion as to whether or not forced physical exercise of the type in question would give rise to civil or criminal liability on the part of school districts and/or their employees, in this litigious age a suit for money damages in tort is clearly a possibility under the right set of circumstances - and this fact alone would serve to alert all concerned to proceed with caution with respect to any activities which may cause physical pain to a pupil." John K. Van De Kamp, Attorney General and Harlan E. Van Wte, Deputy Attorney General, of the State of California, Department of Justice as quoted in The Last? Resort, Spring, 1988.
Part II. What Parents Can Do About Forced Exercise.
* Prepare a list of the child's interests and abilities. Instead of focusing only on a child's restrictions or limitations, written and verbal information to teachers should include what your child CAN do.
* At the beginning of each school term, meet individually with the physical education teacher, recess monitor, coach, and others who are responsible for your child during gym, sports or playground activities. Be prepared to discuss your child's needs, fitness goals, and activity options.
* Even though most children with asthma do not have a formal individualized education plan (IEP), it may be useful to meet with school officials to develop a written plan that documents your child's health condition, specific health management needs, and educationally-acceptable options for times when a child's variable stamina or tolerance for exertion may require adjusting a program or an activity. If a child does have an IEP, be sure that these issues are addressed.
* Consult the school district's special education department. There may be a specialist in adapted or adaptive physical education who can explain how the pace, duration or intensity of regular physical education activities, competitive programs, or annual "fitness" challenges can be adapted to meet a student's variable needs. If there is no specialist in your town, contact the state chapter or national office of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD).
* In some school districts, where parents have been unsuccessful in changing statutes or policies allowing corporal punishment, some schools give individual parents the option of putting a written letter into their child's school file that states their objection to corporal punishment or that parents be notified, in advance, before a specific discipline method (such as forced exercise) is used.
* Share your interests and concerns with others. Local support groups for parents of children with asthma or children with other chronic conditions or disabilities can be a source of information, support and advice on working with schools and negotiating for your child's needs.
* Your principal, other parents, or the Parent-Teacher Association may be interested in professional development opportunities and innovative programs that increase the flexibility of your school's physical education program. For example, there are several physical education curriculum packages available to teachers. Personal Best, available from AAHPERD, offers a program based on individualized fitness goals. It is an alternative to the President's Council Physical Fitness Challenge that is based on national norms, stresses competition, and rewards only outstanding levels of performance and fitness. Other physical education assessment and education programs are described in "Update on Youth Fitness Assessment Packages," in The Massachusetts Association's (MAHPERD) Journal, Winter, 1990.
* Join with other parents and concerned school staff. Contact the parents of students with diabetes, arthritis and other chronic conditions who may be equally concerned about the health and safety risks of forced exercise and dangerous discipline methods as well as unfair and discriminatory practices such as lowering grades for missed gym time or for failing to meet arbitrary fitness or performance standards. Document your collective concerns about unsound physical education practices and present them to the school principal, school district administration and school board.
* Propose that the school board create a special advisory committee or task force to consider the practice of forced exercise, to evaluate school policies, teacher's practices or programs, and to formulate recommendations. Research may reveal that a teacher is violating written school policy or that a school policy violates constitutional safeguards, state statutes, or the child's right to a free and appropriate education as protected by federal special education regulations or laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.)
* Consult the federally funded Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center in your state for information on parents' rights and how to take formal steps to remedy school policies and practices that adversely affect your child. Find the phone number for your local PTI Center by calling the Federation for Children with Special Needs, 617/482-2915.
* Obtain information on parent and student rights, on court rulings, and on state and federal laws as well as referrals to advocacy groups, parent networks, and legal aid organizations.
* Contact the National School Boards Association, the National Education Association, or the National Parent-Teacher Association that has called for a federal ban on corporal punishment. They can be a source of position statements, model policies, standards and guidelines on a variety of school health, discipline, and other issues that could be useful for winning support in your community as well as enhancing your credibility in negotiations with administrators and school officials. RESOURCES
• American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), Reston, VA. www.aahperd.org • The Committee to End Violence Against the Next Generation, Inc., Adah Mauer, Executive Director, 977 Keeler Ave., Berkeley CA 94708-1498, 415/527-0454. • National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives in the Schools, Irwin Hyman, Ed.D., Director, 235 Ritter Hall South, Department of School Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, 215/787-6091. • Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE), 560 S. Hartz Ave., #408, Danville, CA 94526, • "Wrongful Death” The Last? Resort, Summer, 1990. Newsletter of the Committee to End Violence Against the Next Generation. • Carpenter, Linda Jean, PhD, JD. Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, Winter, 1988, quoted in The Last? Resort, Winter 1989-90. • Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick: The Appalling Story of Physical and Psychological Abuse in American Schools, by Irwin Hyman. • "Update on Youth Fitness Assessment Packages," by David Thomas, The Massachusetts Association's (MAHPERD) Journal, Winter, 1990. Merrill S. Bergstrom, Editor, 15 Jay Ave., Northboro, MA 01532.
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)