California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed suspending the physical fitness tests at the state’s schools over concerns that they promote bullying and body discrimination.
While the administration argues the physical assessments can cause students of different body shapes to be body-shamed or bullied, the BMI screening is particularly sensitive because it asks students to select whether they are female or male.
A number of school districts have complained to the state that this is discriminatory against students who identify as non-binary, according to H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Finance Department.
If the proposal, which was included in Newsom’s budget bill for next year, passes, physical fitness testing would be suspended for three years.
“Dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes, and improving school climate is one way California is working to keep all students safe and healthy, consistent with the Governor’s commitment to a California that respects all students,” Palmer said in an email.
During the proposed three-year suspension, the Department of Education would consult with experts on fitness, physical education, gender identity and students with disabilities to determine whether the test needs to be modified or a new assessment should be developed.
But Palmer says Newsom’s proposal will not affect students’ physical fitness.
“The pause in administering tests won’t affect the amount or level of (physical education) that kids receive from their school,” Palmer said, adding that PE classes would still be a graduation requirement.
Gender identity advocates praise the move
Advocates for gender identity are praising Newsom’s proposal as a step forward.
This difference in standards can put transgender and non-binary students in a tough spot, possibly even in danger, Baum said.
“If I’m a transgender boy and nobody knows, and then I don’t meet the standards of a boy physically, I’m put in a difficult situation. Either I don’t meet the standards and take the according grade or I compromise my own privacy and tell my teacher I was actually born as a girl,” Baum said, adding that this can lead to bullying of the transgender student.
When a student who identifies as non-binary is pushed to select male or female on the BMI assessment, Baum says, that forces them to claim an identity that’s not their own.
“It’s simply important that kids feel seen by the school that they go to,” Baum said. “By recognizing non-binary people and using the right pronouns, that’s a huge acknowledgment of someone’s reality and experience, and it’s affirming.”
BMI isn’t even an accurate measure of fitness, some say
Even former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would be considered obese when he won the top bodybuilding title of Mr. Olympia in 1974, Schwarzenegger’s spokesman told the Associated Press.
“Whether the state uses fitness tests or not, Governor Schwarzenegger believes that the most important thing is that our students have access to daily physical education classes to promote a healthy and fit lifestyle,” Schwarzenegger’s the spokesman said.