Three words: PE, Locker, Room— widely known as one of the grossest places on the planet and defined by Urban Dictionary as “the most awkward place in school.” Anyone who has attended public school is fully aware of how unsanitary and uncomfortable these places can be. Imagine the aroma of over 30 hot-and-sweaty adolescents crammed together in one small, stuffy room. It is not the most pleasant picture. And somehow it is far more common than it should be to see students faint or be wheelchaired out of the locker rooms after a hot day of class. Locker rooms are grimy and uncomfortable enough in normal circumstances, and the pandemic only serves to further amplify the icky atmosphere. But with the return to campus later this month, PE will still be an in-person class for those currently taking it, and this seems problematic for a number of reasons.
The main reason reopening PE with school is hazardous is because of the age group this class targets. The majority of people who need PE credits are freshmen and sophomores. As of the writing of this article on April 16, because of their age, most of these students are not yet even approved by the CDC and FDA to be vaccinated, much less eligible in LA County, and most likely will not be by the time school reopens. Why, in the middle of a pandemic, risk a situation where students are having to be in a small space with little ventilation as they chat and undress? Even if only a certain number of students are allowed in at one time, and even though the school will be diligent about cleaning, the high risk of this enclosed type of space cancels that out.
Moreover, the school day is being cut down in hybrid school for a crucially important reason — so students will be on campus for a limited time, only for the essential classes. PE, unlike math or other academic classes, can be done at home very easily. Most academic classes have been challenging for students throughout the year because they require in-person interaction and additional interface with teachers in order for students to properly learn and keep up with the curriculum. Although students may have more resources and tools for exercising on campus than at home, PE certainly should not make the cut of what students are on campus for.
The return of in-person sports practice and competitions has not exactly been reassuring for how PE classes will run. First, the sports teams ask their athletes to come to practice already dressed to avoid using the locker rooms, so it seems unreasonable for PE classes to require their use. Second, although there are strict guidelines in place for how teams must act in order to play and many precautions they follow, from the frequent sightings of athletes practicing without masks to the crowded football stands that can be seen by anyone driving on Indian Hill, COVID-19 protocols seem a little more casual than they should be. Moreover, some sports have already had positive COVID-19 test results. These examples weaken the already feeble case of in-person PE to the point where it is clear that PE should not resume in person.
Furthermore, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air about returning to school — all the more so about returning to PE classes. As of the week before the return, how social distancing will be enforced in the locker rooms and what precautions will be taken to keep students safe are still being finalized. What is also still unknown is how PE will work for CORE students or other students who are choosing to stay home. Since the school WiFi does not reach out to the track, and all parts of the school where PE class is normally conducted, it would be difficult for all CORE students to participate via Zoom. As of spring break, PE teachers were uncertain of what the in-person classes would consist of and how they would manage social distancing, as well as the locker room situation. It makes sense for there to still be some unanswered questions. However, given that students are putting their safety at risk by returning to school, they should be provided with a clear picture of what they will be required to do during the school day and in PE before they agree to return.