In the January 10, 2003, issue of The Charlotte Observer, Celeste Smith wrote that, although the North Carolina Board of Education officially encouraged schools to offer more physical education, it declined at first to mandate a minimum amount. (It eventually approved a plan that will go into effect in the 2006-2007 school year.) Some of the board members objected to placing more demands on schools already under pressure to emphasize academic requirements.

This problem is increasingly common across the country, but high-school students throughout Florida have found a unique answer: online physical education. In the January 5, 2003, issue of the The Miami Herald, Steve Harrison reported that numerous Florida high-school students take a free, state-proctored Internet class in which they not only complete a dozen online quizzes on fitness and nutrition but also submit logs chronicling their running, stretching and weight lifting. It may sound laughable, but the students insist that the class helps them improve their stamina, strength and flexibility.

Such a concept obviously requires tremendous integrity on the part of students, and online physical education teachers believe they have it. “The kids are honest, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do,” said Tim Maxwell, a longtime physical education instructor at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida, who now teaches Broward County’s online P.E. class. He reviews his students’ work only by fax or e-mail but is accessible by pager and telephone.

Students’ honesty not-withstanding, David Feigley, professor in the exercise science department at Rutgers University and founder of the Youth Sports Research Council, has noted flaws in online physical education. For example, he has said that students could benefit more from having a coach critique how they run or lift weights.