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New York City Comptroller Reports That Hundreds of City Schools Lack Indoor Gyms and Gym Teachers

young girl doing gymnastics with motion blur
For years, obesity has been a growing problem in the United States for people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds. As a result, many parents try to provide healthy meals for their children, while a number of programs have worked to promote exercise and other beneficial habits. But what if our schools are part of the problem? A new report from the office of the New York City Comptroller reports that hundreds of city schools are, in fact, failing when it comes to students’ physical education, a decision experts say could impact the area for years to come. 

According to a report titled “Dropping the Ball: Disparities in Physical Education in New York City Schools,” from city Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, 32% of the city’s 1,700 public schools had no certified gym teachers working full-time. Meanwhile, 28% had no indoor space for physical exercise. Pointing out that 26% of the area’s students from kindergarten through eighth grade are struggling with obesity, Stringer called the situation a violation of state physical education requirements that is harming New York City children.

“Thousands of kids, especially in East Harlem, the South Bronx and other under-served areas, have been left on the bench,” Stringer said. He argued that the school system “should immediately conduct a system-wide assessment of physical education in these schools.”

New York State law requires all schools to have adequate indoor and outdoor facilities for physical education, and for activities to be taught or supervised by certified instructors. However, based on city Education Department surveys of school leaders from 2012 to 2014, 149 city schools lacked both a gym and a full-time certified gym teacher. In 80% of these schools, this was because the facilities were co-located with other schools in shared buildings.

However, at least three city schools reported that they had no gyms or gym teachers whatsoever. For example, students at the Children’s Workshop School in the East Village told the Daily News that they use an adjacent playground for exercise when the weather is good, and the school’s lobby for gym class in the winter. Likewise, students at Public School 155 and the Gotham Professional Arts Academy in Brooklyn also reported that they had no dedicated gym space or certified gym teacher.

In response to the report, City Education Department spokesman Jason Fink stated that the Comptroller’s Office was overstating the number of schools without space for physical education, although he said that the agency would review the findings. However, Stringer’s data echoes previous research collected by former Comptroller John Liu in 2011. As a result, it currently appears that 507 city schools do not have licensed gym teachers, and 435 schools lack gyms or other dedicated physical fitness spaces, including outdoor school yards or nearby parks. In total, this means 230,000 students attend public schools without a full-time, certified gym teacher, and 153,000 students do not have access to spaces for physical activity during school hours.

Experts agree that this could have serious consequences on the students and the community as a whole: a CDC analysis has suggested that because individuals who are physically active have significantly lower annual direct medical costs, getting people to become more active could reduce yearly medical costs in the U.S. by more than $70 billion. Failing to engage children now could therefore lead to higher levels of health problems and spending in the future.

State education officials have yet to respond to the report.