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Waivers, Exemptions, and Substitutions in Physical Education

Laura F. Prior, Matthew D. Curtner-Smith


The granting of waivers, exemptions, and substitutions (WES) for physical education appears to be on the increase in the United States. This study investigated the rationale behind and process of granting WES. Participants from three school districts were 10 physical education teachers, eight school principals, two school assistant principals, six students, and six parents. In addition, one state official participated in the study. Data came from three types of interviewing and the collection of relevant documents. These were analyzed through analytic induction and constant comparison and were reduced to key themes. Three forms of WES were identified: those that involved students participating in in-school activities in lieu of physical education, those that involved students participating in out-of-school activities in lieu of physical education, and innovative waivers that gave administrators the power to curtail provision of the subject. Policy regarding WES varied, resulting in a nonuniform and idiosyncratic system. The majority of principals, parents, and students, and a minority of physical education teachers supported the granting of WES. The space created for WES to evolve was created by the marginalization of physical education in relation to academic subjects and competitive sport; by the privileging of participation in physical activity over other objectives of the subject; and by low quality physical education. These findings provide clues for combating the increase of WES. 

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Waivers; exemptions; substitution; physical education

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