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Phys Ed Class Refrain: Well, Excuuuuse Me


"My plastic surgeon doesn't want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose."

"I have a note from my tennis instructor, and he would prefer it if I didn't expose myself to anything that would derail his teachings."

--Cell-phone-toting girls to their P.E. teacher in the movie "Clueless."


Excuses to get out of P.E. are rarely so rich in real life. But who among us doesn't understand the urge to worm out of phys ed from time to time?

Despite ongoing strides statewide to create a less threatening and more rewarding P.E., plenty of kids could earn master's degrees in ducking it. So empathetic are parents, school officials say, that P.E. is the one class for which some will make up excuses for their children.

As another school year gets underway, dozens of Orange County high school students at beaches and malls were asked about the ins and outs of P.E.

Plenty of them love P.E.

A lot don't.

Janice Kim, 14, a freshman at Garden Grove High School, hates running. In P.E., she says, it's practically a law: must make teenagers who hate it run.

Nodding next to her on a bench outside Westminster Mall is friend Makoto Kin, 15, of La Serna High School in Whittier. Both are waiting for their hour-late ride. Both are wearing the makeup style of the day: brown lip liner and no lipstick.

"They just want to torture us," Janice says. "Like, once every week, running a mile would be OK. If we have cramps or we're sick, we just . . . help the teacher or the librarian."

Adds Makoto, with an expression suggesting impending nausea: "Straight out? I hate P.E. We gotta run too much. . . . Ya gotta wear uniforms."

"They don't give us enough time to shower," Janice adds. "We only have 10 minutes to change."

The California Department of Education requires students to complete two years of physical education for high school graduation--specifically, 200 minutes every 10 days of school. It has long been required because physical fitness is recognized as an important component of overall health and well-being.

But how a student meets that P.E. requirement can be creative. It is one of the few required courses with built-in escape clauses at many schools. For instance, most school districts allow students to earn part of their P.E. credits by playing for a school athletic team. Many count participation in a marching band.

It's up to each district to decide what flies and what doesn't as long as the basics are covered.

At some schools, such as Magnolia High in Anaheim, students in the drill or flag team can apply their credits from those classes to their P.E. standard. At Dana Hills High in Dana Point, students can earn P.E. credits by taking the school's surfing class. Some school districts allow cheerleading activities to count toward P.E.

Schools sometimes allow students to work out their requirement in activities not directly connected to school if they show good cause. At Dana Hills, a horseback class taken off-campus has counted. At another school, a student qualified with workouts at a nearby Family Fitness Center. In Northern California, a student earned her phys ed credits at a bowling alley.

Some kids may think this is getting out of jail free.

P.E. teachers smile at this. They were P.E. students once themselves.

Key above all is to teach students the necessity of physical fitness and inspire them to remain active throughout their life, says Jeanne Bartelt, the state Department of Education's consultant on physical education and a former P.E. teacher.

If bowling is the sport of choice for a teenager--makes her most comfortable while exercising--Bartelt says, why not?

The bowler was in an independent study program, which by definition has a different structure than the standard high school, Bartelt says. The student's bowling-as-P.E. was arranged with the help of her teacher, and the girl was learning a skill, had set goals and a schedule and was supervised throughout her semester at the lanes.


Grousing about P.E. is popular sport, though a fair share of students welcome the chance to exercise something besides their brains at school.

"P.E.'s all right and everything," says Paris Moua, a lean 16-year-old starting his junior year at Los Amigos High School in Santa Ana.

Alexis Nygaard and Theresa Vu, both 14 and from Westminster, say they really like P.E. They are dressed in the season's fashion--hip-hugging faded jeans, vinyl purse totes and chokers with the symbols of the Chinese New Year. An added twist is to have bra straps visible from every edge of their tank shirts.

"I wouldn't try to get out of P.E.," says Alexis, a freshman at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana.

Most of the time, P.E. at the private Catholic high school is the last period of the day. But still, the girls say, some of their friends ditch P.E. by saying they are sick.

Standard ploys, many teens say, are to feign illness or menstrual cramps. The latter, teachers say, doesn't work like it did, say, a generation ago.

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