Local students are increasingly bypassing school-day physical exercise in favor of extra-curricular athletics and many students now using their extra time to double up on elective classes.

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified District School Board is in the midst of a multi-meeting revision to independent study programs prompted by a new state law. At their first discussion on the subject in February, the board heard concerns of the way independent study programs impact regular Physical Education classes and staff returned in March with a more detailed analysis of the Independent Study Physical Education (ISPE) program.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Jacqueline Mora, more than 150 middle school students have replaced their regularly scheduled PE class with an outside physical activity. Officials said that has resulted in students individualizing their education by opening up a free period in the school day. About two-thirds use the slot to take a second elective, with the majority choosing a class in the visual or performing arts.

The study prompted a discussion by the board of rethinking PE requirements including possible establishment of an afternoon PE class (known as a Z period) or widening the possibilities for physical activity on school sites.

“What students are doing is taking all these electives, not just wasting their time,” said Boardmember Oscar De La Torre said. “However, we have to encourage young people to get out there and get physical activity. Looking at Z period, it’s an awesome idea and I think we look into this.”

De La Torre suggested in addition to the Z period, perhaps the addition of an intramural sports league for students to compete against other schools, potentially between 3 p.m. – 5 p.m., a move that he suggests would help both parents and students.

“I think they’d like that competitiveness,” De La Torre said. “Parents do AYSO and things like that already. Three to four, three to five, we offer that and it’ll be great, it aligns with work schedules and helps parents.”

Data revealed during the presentation also showed that primarily white and non-socially economic disadvantaged students were utilizing ISPE in this way prompting the Board to state any program should be applied fairly to all students.

“The participants tend not to be people of color or in financial need. Is this impacting other students? It needs to be looked at,” said Boardmember Ralph Mechur.

Officials said they had no plans to make significant changes to the program this year but Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati said he had questions about the way the program was being implemented and said he will be establishing a group to help study changes for the future. There will be a new committee of staff members to help process ISPE applications and a standardization of applications between middle and high schools.

The Board will vote on final language governing Independent Study programs at their April 12 meeting and new applications for Independent Study programs will be available shortly thereafter. Applications will be due by May 4 with the goal of informing parents about their application results by the end of the school year.

Board president Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said he has heard criticism of the drawn-out process but said it’s already shown its value.

“We discovered ISPE is full with many interests and intersects with many aspirations,” he said. “What I don’t see mentioned which I’d like to is parents and people felt they should have been included in the dialogue.”

He asked that when the item returns in April, it include some information on the role parents place in the process.