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School officials consider waiver for students to opt out of PE

SUWANEE - Gwinnett County Public Schools officials will consider creating a waiver for middle schoolers to opt out of physical education classes.

The school board asked district officials Thursday to investigate the option. The school system currently requires middle school students to take at least nine weeks of physical education and at least nine weeks of health, said Tricia Kennedy, the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction.

School board members said they want to see if there is a way to provide flexibility for students interested in taking year-long electives such as band or orchestra. Board vice chairman Daniel Seckinger said students who participate in athletics after school, for example, may want to pursue different opportunities during the school day.

The waiver, if created, would have to be signed by students' parents.

The school board also heard reports Thursday on reducing teacher absenteeism and improving staff development.

During the 2006-07 school year, teachers were absent an average of nine days, two of which were used for staff development. The cost for providing substitutes that year was $9.8 million. For each day the absenteeism rate is reduced, the district could save about $1 million, said Jorge Gomez, the district's executive assistant for administration.

The cross-functional action team that studied employee attendance suggested a policy should be revised to include expectations about attendance as well as what is considered to be an acceptable absence versus an unacceptable absence. The group also suggested employee attendance data be tracked and incorporated into personnel evaluation forms.

A team that studied professional development made suggestions that could reduce the number of days teachers were absent for training. The group suggested the school district eliminate the stipends it pays for staff development conducted during employees' contracted time and reallocate the money to create more flexible training opportunities such as online courses.