Opting Out: Athlete vs. PSAL Athlete?


Ellora Klein

Julie Lin ’21, during a Girls’ Cross Country meet at Van Cortlandt Park after school. Because she participates in a PSAL sport, she is allowed to opt out of Physical Education.

Your arms ache from practicing layups in gym as you stand on the crowded subway on your way to sports practice outside of school. You will not be home until seven and still have not been able to start your homework. This is the reality of many Bronx Science students who participate in non-PSAL sports outside of school, because unlike PSAL athletes, they are unable to opt out of gym class.

Physical Education (PE) is a course designed to educate students about physical fitness. It advises students on how to stay fit, and gives students time to apply the information through physical activity. Depending on the length of class periods, the Department of Education website states that students must complete 7 or 8 semesters of P.E. in order to graduate from high school. At Bronx Science, students must pass P.E. every term in order to graduate. The Bronx Science P.E. curriculum consists of units that focus on different fitness activities and sports that allow students to get their daily exercise, such as badminton, weight training, yoga, and more.

However, if a student is on a PSAL sports team, they are able to opt out of P.E. as they engage in adequate exercise during team meets and practices. In order to opt out, the student must be either a 10th, 11th, or 12th grader, have an 85 or above average in P.E., and complete the FitnessGram tests to ensure they are in the healthy fitness zone for their age. “That extra hour during the day kind of gives them time to catch up [on] their homework, do some more studying, and I think it’s been a positive for the kids,” said Mr. Michael McGrath, the Athletic Director and Assistant Principal of the Physical Education Department.

Athletes on teams outside of school are not allowed to opt out of P.E., despite the fact that they get exercise in practices, just as PSAL athletes do. Due to the fact that PSAL is a citywide organization and all the teams within it must meet certain requirements, there is no way of ensuring that teams from other organizations meet these requirements. Regardless, many students think this rule is unfair.

Students who are affected by this rule have strong opinions about it. Byul Sak ’21, a figure skater outside of school, believes that this rule, while beneficial to PSAL athletes, should pertain to student athletes on other teams as well. “Of course, athletes, both in or out of school, dedicate a lot of time and energy to what they do, so the fact that only those who are associated with the school can skip gym is sometimes frustrating,” Sak said. PSAL athletes also feel that the rule is flawed. Julie Lin ’21, a member of the Girls’ Cross Country Team, points out that it can affect students’ choices to join a sports team. “The opt out makes some students eager for it instead of for playing the sport itself,” she said of students who join a sport simply for the gym opt-out.
Yona Litwin ’21, who participates in Ultimate Frisbee, which is not considered a PSAL sport, speaks of his experience with the rule. “Not only is it unfair, it also discourages people from joining the team because they know they won’t get opted out. For years we’ve been trying to speak out about this to no avail,” he said. “I understand that there is a problem verifying who should get opted out, but something needs to be done.” While it is true that there is no real NYC DOE system to determine who is getting enough exercise from extracurricular activities outside of school, if such a system were established, it would be of great benefit to the students who are affected by the issue of not being able to opt out of gym, despite getting the necessary amount of exercise every week.
Perhaps one day such a system will be developed. If it is, many students will benefit from it, and be able to make use of the extra time during the day to do homework, study, or simply relax.

“Of course, athletes, both in or out of school, dedicate a lot of time and energy to what they do, so the fact that only those who are associated with the school can skip gym is sometimes frustrating,” Sak said.