Montclair High School students can take dance classes to fulfill their physical education requirement. But that soon may change.

Students say the school is planning to re-classify dance as an elective, which means that dance classes would not count toward a student’s physical education credits.

The news prompted students to start a petition asking the school to reconsider.

The petition was posted to the Care2 website. As of Jan. 11, the petition had 207 supporters, with a goal of 1,000.

The matter is to be discussed at the Monday, Jan. 14 BOE meeting, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said Friday. Johnson did not provide details when asked what prompted the school and the district to look into eliminating dance as a PE option.

The New Jersey Department of Education requires all public school students from first grade onwards to take 150 hours of age-appropriate physical education courses each year, an average of two and a half hours a week. High school students are required to take 3.75 credits of physical education classes a year in order to graduate.

The high school has three full-year dance programs: Modern Dance I, Intermediate Dance Technique and the by-audition-only Advanced Dance Technique. All three are advertised as fulfilling the PE requirement on the school’s website.

Sarah Shiffman, a sophomore at Montclair High School, said the dance classes were very popular with students. “We’re doing anything we can to make it stay an option,” she said.

Shiffman takes dance in lieu of a gym class at the high school. She was excited to learn that dance was offered as a PE alternative at MHS, since that wasn’t the case where she went to middle school.

Students learned of the pending change when they met with faculty to start planning their class schedules for next year. The staff told them that dance wasn’t going to be an option for PE credit next year, she said.

Shiffman and her classmates will be at BOE meeting in hopes of convincing the administration to reconsider.

According to the petition, dance classes include instruction on health topics as a regular PE class would. It also says that dance provides an outlet for students who, for whatever reason, may not feel safe or comfortable in a regular PE class.

“If students are not happy or comfortable in their physical education class, they will not be motivated or receive the benefits of a strong athletic life, thus instilling a negative connotation with exercise. Montclair High School’s dance classes deliver on the same objectives and criteria as physical education classes do,” the petition says.

Deb Garrison is a parent liaison with the Schools Visual and Performing Arts. Both of her daughters took dance through the school. And she noted that many students who have taken dance through MHS's program have gone on to be professional dancers.

Dance is definitely a physical activity, she said. "If you've ever stood at a ballet barre, you know the physical discipline of dance."

If dance were to be re-classified as an elective, she said, it would mean that students would have less time to take dance if they were occupied with mandatory classes, including PE. There is also the concern that there may no longer be a need for full-time dance instructors if fewer students take the class. "Essentially, the dance program as we know it will die," she said.

There is also an equity issue, Garrison said. Wealthier families may be able to pay for dance classes for their children outside of school, but for students whose families do not have the means to pay for outside classes, the dance classes offered at the high school are their only option.

Garrison said she respected the administration and their work. "This is one thing they may not have realized was super important to people."