PSAL Free Proposal Rejected by SLT

The SLT voted against continuing the discussion about the PSAL free proposal, which was presented by members of the SU.

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Q: What is the PSAL?

A: PSAL stands for Public School Athletic League, a group that promotes and organizes student athletics in all New York City public schools. It is the oldest, largest sports league in the United States, allocating on average $27 million to 45,000 student athletes across the city.

Q: What would PSAL frees mean for student athletes?

A: The PSAL free could take a number of iterations. The general idea is that students who are officially registered as PSAL athletes would be exempt from attending physical education classes during their seasons.

“My reaction to the decision is really one of disappointment. I’ve met for probably 10 or more hours with either [Health and P.E. Teacher Peter] Bologna, [Assistant Principal of Safety, Health, and P.E. Brian] Moran, or [Principal Eric] Contreras, and I’ve really made the effort to make every possible compromise, so much so that some other people in the SU [Student Union] thought I’d compromised too much. I gave up everything we could’ve possibly given up, and Mr. Contreras said to me just before the meeting a couple days before, that ‘compromise is the way to go and that we’d all need to work together to do this,’ and I feel I’ve done that for months,” Junior Caucus Director of Project Management Baird Johnson said.

Johnson and other members of the Student Union (SU) worked for over two years drafting the PSAL free proposal, which was pitched at the School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting on December 4. Parents, athletes, and P.E. teachers who attended had the opportunity to share their thoughts on the proposal. After a heated three hours, the SLT voted on whether or not to continue the discussion at a later date by sectioning off a smaller sub-committee made of students, administrators, teachers, and parents. When only seven out of the 17 voting participants voted in favor of continuing the PSAL free conversation, the meeting was finally adjourned. PSAL frees would not be discussed at SLT meetings for the rest of the year.

The PSAL free proposal would have allowed PSAL athletes to have a free period in place of a P.E. class. The proposal consists of two sub-proposals. The first, which is modeled after Bronx Science, would allow students who play at least one sport to have a free period during their season. They would still be programmed into a P.E. class, however, and would attend P.E. once their season ended.

The second sub-proposal, modeled after Brooklyn Technical High School, would apply to athletes in two consecutive seasons. They would be not be required to enroll in a P.E. class for the semester they were in season. Though it was less inclusive, this sub-proposal had fewer logistical issues and was generally favored over the first proposal.

Junior and SU Vice President Vishwaa Sofat considered the second proposal to be “an effort to make compromise with administration and P.E. department athletic directors based off what we understood were their biggest concerns regarding programming and other logistical problems,” he said.

Both proposals would only be available to students who passed two semesters of P.E. in freshman year, meaning the proposal only applies to students in 10th grade and above. Additionally, athletes would have to pass the FitnessGram and sign an agreement with parents and coaches in order to be exempt from P.E. PSAL frees would be optional for athletes.

However, if students chose to have a free, they would have time to relax, do homework, or study for an upcoming test. “Student athletes spend a disproportionate amount of time out of school doing their extracurricular activities, which are both mentally and physically taxing. The idea of giving them 40 minutes a day, every other day, to do work, to do whatever type of housekeeping they can around the school is really appealing and somewhat necessary as a lot of student athletes indicated to us,” senior and SLT Representative and Chair Joshua Weiner said.

Sofat first began developing the PSAL free proposal during his freshman year, working alongside former SU President Tahseen Chowdhury (’18) and other SU members. “They called multiple high schools, and they looked at statistics, PSAL rules, New York City Department of Education rules. They really put a lot of time and effort into this proposal,” SU President William Wang said. “We had two to three years of research and work completed, and it is an 18-page proposal.”

PSAL frees have been pitched multiple times to the SLT. In fact, the SU presented PSAL frees at an SLT meeting two years ago; however, the SLT did not make any decisions. “The scene wasn’t that different. The only difference was that this time you had a ring of P.E. teachers all around the room, and that day it was only Mr. Moran making his case,” Sofat said.

During this SLT meeting, a variety of students, teachers, and members of the administration had chances to present their ideas and concerns about the proposal. Three-season coach and P.E. teacher Vincent Miller strongly voiced his opinions during the meeting. “Each athlete is actually considered a ‘student-athlete’—academics always come first, physical education is a part of the academia, so that comes first before athletics,” he said.

Moran voiced a similar opinion. “There is a big difference between physical fitness, athletics, and physical education. I recognize that student-athletes commit a tremendous amount of time to their sport, but I don't believe that we should [offset] that work load by taking away physical education and robbing students of a potentially life-long educational experience,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Though SU members are aware of the proposal’s drawbacks, they are still fighting for their voices to be heard. “P.E. teachers are definitely overlooked at Stuyvesant and across the city. That’s a completely valid point,” Weiner said. “But as a representative of the students, [...] my interest is that if there are 100 to 200 students who need some sort of break in their week because they are under high amounts of stress, I am going to try to get it for them.”

Both Weiner and Sofat wish that they could have established better communication between them and the administration at the meeting. “We understand that no staff should be forced to [do] something that they don’t want to do. We understand that doesn’t really create the best environment within our P.E. classes. That’s not what we want. What we did want and do want is at least an effort from the P.E. department and others to understand where we’re coming from,” Sofat said.

However, SU members have also reflected that there were faults within their proposal. They received updated information about the Department of Education’s policy regarding the requirements for city P.E. curricula the night before the meeting. “We had to change up the entire proposal only because we were given the new policy from the city by Principal Contreras a day before the SLT meeting which really pushed us back. We spent all night and most of our school day trying to fix the proposal and trying to accommodate students, teachers, administration, and programming,” Wang said. “Unfortunately, we were harshly criticized at the SLT meeting because of that.”

Additionally, SLT members could not read the proposal prior to the meeting since last-minute changes had to be made the day before. This easily led to miscommunication, as some issues and concerns brought up by SLT members were already addressed in the proposal.

According to Johnson, disagreement during the meeting stemmed from this lack of preparation. “Some of the objections at the SLT meeting showed they just had no knowledge of what was in it. Not only were they not willing to compromise, they were not willing to know what they were compromising about and that’s extremely disappointing,” he said.

During the meeting, SU members were taken aback by its unexpected direction. “We really expected it to be a productive environment where we would try to work out every detail as to how it would get done or at least set up a way to do that in the future,” Johnson said. “What we weren’t prepared for, and what I think [...] was the mistake on our part, was for the Stuyvesant administration to come in battling against us when we were woefully unprepared and unknowing that any type of battle would take place.”

SU members noted that some student athletes who attended the meeting did not fully represent the opinions of the student body. “In talking to Mr. Contreras, we agreed that in the spirit of compromise we shouldn’t have a bunch of athletes show up and discuss and argue for it, and then the P.E. teachers brought their own athletes to argue against it on bases that [had] nothing to do with the proposal, students [who] hadn’t read about it, students [who] hadn’t been involved with it, and students [who] are really unrepresentative of the student body, especially the athlete body,” Johnson said.

Many of the students who spoke against the implementation of PSAL frees attended the SLT meeting to support their coaches. “My entire experience as a Stuyvesant student has been as a three-sport athlete and because of that I’ve had a lot of interaction with the coaches and P.E. staff. They have made me feel really safe and welcome here,” senior Talia Kirshenbaum said. “When I heard they felt disrespected by this policy and they felt that their profession wasn’t being appreciated, even if I don’t fully understand maybe their logic behind that, just hearing that that was what made them feel was reason enough for me to want to defend that.”

Instead of voting on whether or not to implement PSAL frees, the SLT voted on whether or not to continue the PSAL free discussion at a later date. “The vote was actually for whether we should continue to talk about it except in an outer committee specifically for PSAL frees or whether we should just abandon the topic throughout the entire school year,” Wang said. “I was surprised that we even got seven votes because a lot people warped our words and our policy.”

There was still much up for discussion between teachers, administration, and students by the end of the meeting. Members of the SU were not in favor of the decision to call a vote, especially because there were questions still up in the air about the proposal. Three questions regarding the legitimacy and legality of the PSAL free proposal are still yet to be answered. “There are a lot of legal problems with the information that Contreras gave us. The Department of Education is extremely vague,” Wang said.

Sofat believes that this lack of legal information ultimately weakened the PSAL free proposal. “We’ve never gotten a concrete response from legal, [...] but having these answers from legal are really crucial,” Sofat said. “When you have three big questions that should change your outlook on this proposal unanswered, no committee should vote on a proposal this big.”

Members of the SU also reflected that they had put too much trust in the administration before pitching the proposal. “We had talked with the administration about the proposal, we had brought them drafts of this proposal, went over our arguments with them, and we had thought that for the most part, they were pretty on board with it. When it came down to vote, that didn’t pan out, which was a pretty big disappointment,” Weiner said.

Johnson said, “I think we were naïve in thinking that the Stuyvesant administration, because they say they are open to students, would be open to us and try and help us along in this and [make] something that works for everybody and they very much were not that way.”

Sofat expressed his disappointment towards the decision of the SLT meeting. “I was really sad, I’m not going to even lie. The last two years this has been my baby, basically. It has been something I truly care about. Seeing that as a community we weren’t even open to considering it, it didn’t make me think this was the Stuyvesant I knew, and I still don’t think it is,” he said.

It was not just SU members who disagreed with the decision to end the conversation. “It was clear that the students had prepared a lot for the meeting and they had all their points lined up. It was very impressive, and I think, for them, they deserved the respect to have the conversation continue,” senior Ally Archer said.

Both administration and students noted that the PSAL free proposal touches upon a much larger issue where students are forced to choose either to succeed in school or to succeed within their extracurriculars. “The bigger picture here is that if it’s stress, and if it’s lack of sleep, I think that’s a schoolwide problem, not necessarily a P.E. problem. The fact that it falls on P.E., I don’t think is necessarily right. Maybe we should relook at our homework policy, maybe we should relook at other activities that also interfere with students’ sleep habits and their study habits,” Miller said. “It’s not just sports and P.E. that should be affected. I think that this is a schoolwide issue that maybe needs to be examined more closely.”

Members of the SU believe that the Stuyvesant community can start to resolve this issue by establishing better relationships between teachers and students. “We are definitely going to be trying to come up with a stronger and more overseeing homework policy,” Wang said. “We have talked with administration, especially Contreras, and I’ve talked to [Assistant Principal of Organization Dr. Gary] Haber as well; we are planning to try to create a committee between a bunch of teachers and a few students, and hopefully we will create [...] a program to help all teachers and students understand how homework is not supposed to take up more than half an hour to 45 minutes per class per night.”

Despite the drawbacks of the SLT decision, the SU will continue to pursue this proposal. “The SLT is just one way, and has been the most traditional way of going about policy changes; however, that does not mean that there cannot be other sub-committees made for tackling this specific policy,” Sofat said. “In the SLT, PSAL frees might not be brought up for the year. But will PSAL frees still be something we work on? Absolutely.”