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L.A. Unified makes health class optional

District will allow high schools to offer alternatives as a way of meeting the requirement to teach about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

June 09, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles school officials quietly stepped back this week from a public commitment to health classes with a memo explaining that schools can avoid the previously required course.

Wednesday's memo to the Board of Education lays out possible exceptions to the one-semester class that could eventually apply to every high school.

Some school systems have stopped requiring the health class to save money. But L.A. Unified officials recently agreed to maintain the class even though it is not required for admission into the state college system.

That decision came after an earlier proposal to remove health from the list of courses required for graduation. Teachers, parents and students descended on board meetings, calling for the class to remain a requirement. After deliberation, Supt. John Deasy said he supported it as well.

However, at least for next year, "the district will continue to allow schools that are electing to choose an alternate option for meeting the health requirement to continue," according to Deasy's note to the board.

With or without a health course, California high schools are required by law to teach students about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; they face penalties if they don't. These units could, for example, be included as part of biology or physical education classes or reviewed online.

Four high school campuses managed by a nonprofit group under the control of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa do not require the course for graduation.

Seven other large high schools plan to drop the health class next year, according to the office of board member Bennett Kayser, including Garfield, Lincoln, Manual Arts and Washington Prep.

Although health teachers expressed anger, some were reluctant to be quoted because they feared for their jobs. But the concern also extended higher up.

"I was shocked by this," Kayser said. "We asked to make sure there was a comprehensive health class taught in high school and we get a memo saying how you can get waivers to avoid it."

Kayser said he was prepared to ask the board to take up the issue.

Board member Steve Zimmer said he recognized that "flexibility and schools determining their focus is important."

But, he said, "youth health is a tipping-point issue that affects whether students are successful in school."

Deasy and other senior officials had no comment on the memo. On Friday, Deasy was locked in negotiations with the teachers union, trying to reach an agreement over possible pay cuts that would preserve jobs.

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