SB 1947 Offers relief from Physical Education and Drivers’ Ed Mandates

Sep 22, 2017

Two small provisions of the comprehensive school-funding reform bill relieve Illinois school districts of some significant curriculum requirements. First, the law removes the requirement that Illinois schools offer “daily” physical education. Instead, the new law provides “A school board may determine the schedule or frequency of physical education courses, provided that a pupil engages in a course of physical education for a minimum of 3 days per 5-day week.” That means that, under the new law, it is up to a local school district to decide whether P.E. should be offered 3, 4, or 5 days a week.

Prior to SB 1947, a school district had the option of seeking a waiver from the daily-P.E. mandate, and many districts did so. According to ISBE’s reports, many other districts simply failed to offer daily P.E., even without a getting a waiver. SB 1947, then, reflects the reality that many school districts have simply been unable to meet the requirement of daily P.E.

The law also provides relief from the physical education mandate by potentially reducing the number of students who will take P.E. at all. Prior to SB 1947, a school district could excuse certain students from P.E. classes, including high school students involved in marching band, juniors and seniors with ongoing school athletics, ROTC students, etc. The new law continues these exceptions and adds a new exception to the list of exemptions that previously existed – “on a case-by-case basis” a school board may excuse 7-12 graders who participate in interscholastic or extracurricular athletics. This is a potentially-broad exception catching many more students who could be excused from P.E. altogether. Fewer P.E. students, of course, will also impact (reduce) the amount physical education schools now must offer.

The reduction of the P.E. requirements on schools means that schools may consider changing their P.E. line up, with implications for personnel staffing, collective bargaining, facility needs. Administrators and school boards exploring this option will also need to think about how this might impact credit and graduation requirements.

Second, although schools are still required to offer drivers’ education courses on essentially the same terms and to the same range of students as previously required, SB 1947 allows a school board to decide to contract out the drivers’ education courses. In previous years, the School Code provided a detailed procedure through which a school could request a waiver of the Drivers’ education mandate allowing a school to contract with a commercial driver training school. The old waiver method has now been eliminated, in favor of a simple public hearing. Before deciding to contract with a commercial driver training school, the board must hold a public hearing at one of its meetings. (This does not need to be a special meeting, but it could be). Subsequently, if the board decides to go this route, the Board will have to provide ISBE with a range of information about the driving instructors, and to keep that information updated on a regular basis. Even prior to SB 1947, Illinois law details specific requirements about what must be contained in a contract with a commercial driver training school, and those contract provisions will need to be incorporated into any board-approved contract. Such a contract should also address other important legal issues, including insurance, evaluations, student behavior, and student records. Again, this decision will implicate personnel issues and generate collective bargaining obligations.

Notably, SB 1947 does not change the limit on the amount school districts may charge students for drivers’ ed. A school seeking to charge more than is allowed by statute, then must follow the mandate waiver procedures to get this authorization.

Illinois Education – Tueth Keeney is proud to be one of the state’s largest Illinois education law practices. The firm has one of the most experienced groups of attorneys in Central and Southern Illinois dedicated to serving public schools. We regularly represent nearly 150 public school districts, including many districts in Central and Southern Illinois. Our Firm is also regularly appointed by insurers of educational institutions to represent districts in complex or difficult cases involving school or civil rights laws.

Laura E. Hemmer practices primarily in the areas of education law and labor and employment. She represents public entities with respect to employment and termination matters, special education issues, student discipline and student rights, civil rights and church/state issues. She has also represented private and public employers through all stages of litigation and appeal in state and federal courts. During law school, Laura served as a legal intern with the United States Attorney’s Office and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.