Montclair School district has made a deal with the New Jersey Department of Education to allow dance students to still receive physical education credit if they had been enrolled in dance instead of physical education, said Superintendent Kendra Johnson.

Under New Jersey state law, dance can not substitute for physical education requirements in public schools unless the dance teacher is PE certified.

In January, the district became aware that numerous students in Montclair’s middle schools and high school had been taking dance to fulfill their PE requirements. School staff informed students that as of the upcoming school year, they would only be able to take dance as an elective and not as a credit course.

In response, students launched a petition to ask the district to allow dance to be used as a PE option.

Johnson said the district would revamp the dance program to bring it more in line with the state’s physical education standards, but she did not offer specifics on what that entails for the program. The curriculum will be revised, with input from teachers, during the summer months, she said.

According to the state, “The dance standards are very specific and require a high level of dance execution. Therefore, they are not easily aligned with the physical education standards. For example, a standards-based physical education program may utilize dance forms as part of instruction, but its focus is on fitness and wellness, while a dance class may address various dance techniques and styles. While there are some common elements, it is unlikely that the curricular objectives will align sufficiently. Courses in dance should be used to achieve arts credits.”

In addition, students who have been taking dance will be offered an assessment at the end of the year to ensure they have met PE requirements, Johnson said.

“We have a plan in place to assess students to document their mastery of PE content this year.  All of this work will be aligned with an updated board policy and revised curriculum,” she said.

One of the district’s dance teachers is certified to teach PE, she said, and two others are currently taking health/PE certification programs. And all dance teachers will have a courtesy certification audit from the NJDOE to see if any of their courses will count toward a health/PE certification.

Some students were planning next year’s schedules with the expectation that they would not be able to take dance.

“We heard it has been worked out and they apparently will be given PE credit, so many of them now have to switch their schedules back to dance,” said Deb Garrison, a parent involved with the School of Visual and Performing Arts.

Aviva Platz’s daughter, a freshman at MHS, takes dance for PE credit at the high school, and is also a member of the school’s dance company. She dances up to eight hours a week.

“I think it’s really unfair to say someone who dances eight hours a week needs to bounce a ball in the gym to fulfill PE credits,” Platz said. She said it was good that the school and the DOE had been able to come to an arrangement.

The state does allow for another option for high school students to apply sport-related activities to PE credit called Option Two. It permits a local board of education to approve alternative activities such as participation in a dance company or community theater to achieve PE credit.

A student may be allowed to take an Option Two course only with the permission of the school and the local school district.

At the March 11 meeting, the BOE presented a draft of a revised Option Two policy. The policy, which was approved on first reading, refers to “alternative learning courses” and “community-based internships.” The policy is intended to cover courses, including academic and arts courses, that might be outside of a traditional curriculum, and determine how students will be graded and assessed for them.

Johnson also said that she had alerted the district’s dance teachers that the district would be advertising for curriculum writers to put together a revised dance curriculum.

She would not comment on whether all dance instructors will now be PE certified.

The petition stated dance offered students not feel comfortable in a traditional PE class another option. The dance class also offers students without the financial means to take dance at school.