By Julian Walker
The Virginian-Pilot
© January 21, 2011

Legislation to require an average of 150 minutes a week of physical education for students in Virginia elementary and middle schools was approved by a Senate committee Thursday.

The measure, SB966, is sponsored by Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk. It incorporates similar bills from Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and John Miller, D-Newport News, and passed the Senate Education and Health Committee on an 11-1 vote.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said the bill is part of a broader campaign to improve the health of Virginia youths and combat childhood obesity. He said the proposal covers students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and sets a similar goal for high schools. It would take effect in the 2014-15 school year.

State educational standards for elementary and middle schools include physical education instruction, but Northam said only a small percentage of Virginia schools offer it on a daily basis. At present, the average amount of time for physical education in elementary and middle schools is 90 minutes during the week, according to the state Department of Education.

Northam’s bill passed in committee the same day a rally for Virginia Healthy Youth Day was held on Capitol Square. Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell attended.

Del. John O’Bannon, a Henrico County Republican and physician, is carrying a House companion to Northam’s bill.