AUSTIN, Texas (AP)-- Health class will no longer be a state requirement for high school students this fall, making Texas one of the few states in the country with no required health education, officials said.
Education Commissioner Robert Scott announced the move in a recent letter to school districts, causing some to worry Texas students will miss out on critical topics like alcohol awareness, sex education and basic nutrition.
"It was very surprising to a lot of people," said Diana Everett, executive director of the Texas Association for Health Physical Education, Health, Recreation and Dance. "We've all been in shock."
Individual school districts still can require students to take health classes, but Scott eliminated the state requirement to comply with a new law that bumps up the number electives required to graduate. Starting this fall, students must take six elective courses, instead of the currently mandated three-and-a-half.
Officials wanted to give students more flexibility to pursue electives of their own choosing, so while two required semesters of fine arts were maintained, a semester of physical education and two semesters of a technology class also were removed from the state's recommended high school program.
"It's a major statement about where we're going," Everett said. "We've been trying to address the issue of childhood obesity, but we seem to be losing ground every time the Legislature meets."
One national health education advocate said removing the course requirement is likely to contribute to students making poor choices.
"It runs the gamut, from tobacco use ... substance use and abuse, nutrition and physical activity levels, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries," said Susan Woolley, executive director of the Ohio-based American School Health Association. "It covers a wide area and it also covers being informed health consumers, knowing when to use medicines or over-the-counter products, properly using the health care system ... all of these things should and could be covered in a good curriculum somewhere between first grade and high school."
Everett said the decision came too late for many school districts and students to change schedules, so many districts will still teach health as if it were required during in the upcoming school year. But schools will have to decide next spring if they'll continue with the courses.
Without a state mandate, "there are going to be a lot of people saying 'well I don't have the time, I'm not comfortable with this, I don't have to hire these teachers or I can get rid of that out of the day,"' Woolley said.
Fine arts advocates, meanwhile, are applauding the state's decision to maintain that requirement.
"Creative aspects of what students learn in fine arts classrooms contributes to 21st century work force preparation," said Robert Floyd, chair of the Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education. "Having more electives also gives students who are truly interested in the fine arts the opportunity to take additional courses beyond the fine arts requirement."
The state's recommended high school program still will require most students to complete 26 credits. Each semester counts for a half-credit. In addition to the core requirements of math, science, English/language arts and social studies, Texas high school students also will be required to take two years of a foreign language and one year each of fine arts and PE.