According to requirements listed by the SDUSHD website, Independent Study Physical Education is only open to students who have medical conditions, are taking a specialized elective that precludes taking a regularly scheduled P.E. class, are participating in sports not offered by the district, have fulfilled their high school graduation P.E. requirements or are “exceptionally gifted, state or regionally ranked athletes.” However, students that elect to take ISPE because of the independent nature of their sport do not always meet the above requirements.

“The rigidity of [the ISPE regulations are] not as rigid as the language may state and the application process is,” Assistant Principal Garry Thornton said. “We encourage kids to do ISPE if that’s what they want to do.”

However, some students take advantage of the lenient enforcement of the state or regional ranking regulation, and take ISPE as a free period.

“I’m not really serious [about dance],” ISPE participant Janet* said. “[I take ISPE] just because I don’t want to take P.E., and I want more time to do homework at home.”

Many students who do not meet any of the other prerequisites were not aware of the ranking requirement when registering for ISPE and did not see district emphasis on checking whether or not student athletes were state or regionally ranked. According to Thornton, the original intent of the program may have been altered by the lenient district enforcement.

“No one ever told me [about the rule requiring students to be state or regionally ranked],” ISPE participant Courtney Jackson (9) said. “[If administration enforced that rule], no one would be able to do ISPE because it’s hard to be ranked. ISPE is for people who don’t want to take P.E. on campus and also really like their sport.”

Lax regulations have caused misconceptions about the purpose of ISPE among students, and some no longer see it as an aid for athletes working to achieve their goals.

According to Thornton, the ISPE program at TPHS is not limited to elite athletes, but available to any students who have a “passion [at the level] they are competing.”

Calls to the district office for comment were not returned, despite several redirections to ISPE teachers and administrators throughout the district.

ISPE students are also required to practice at least seven hours every two weeks with a certified coach. Some ISPE participants like Taylor* see the requirement as too little for ISPE to be taken seriously.

According to equestrian coach and parent Andrea Hill, seven hours of practice and competition every week is considered “very minimal.”

“If it is just time in the saddle, I guess seven hours would be enough,” Hill said. “It just takes longer than that to prepare the horse and take care of equipment.”

However, Thornton said the “minimal” hours serve to financially equalize student participation in ISPE.

“If we put the hours way up, we’re saying you have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to participate in ISPE,” Thornton said. “Is that really fair to the student in a public school system? I don’t think that’s fair.”

Certain student athletes like competitive swimmer Lindsey Anderson (9) excel in their sport because of the ISPE program.

“I couldn’t really imagine being able to do what I do without ISPE,” Anderson said. “If I didn’t have ISPE, I wouldn’t have been able to put the time I did into swimming, and I probably wouldn’t have placed third in Junior Olympics.”

Equestrian Samantha Hill (12), who received a full horseback riding scholarship to the University of Tennessee at Martin and has been participating in the ISPE program since middle school, said the extra ISPE period allowed her to practice without taking time away from homework.

“I feel like, without ISPE, it would be virtually impossible for [Samantha] to keep her grades up, and excel in her sport,” Andrea Hill said.

Whether their goals include simply improving at their respective sports or gaining entry to the Junior Olympics, ISPE allows students to maintain their love for sports while also maintaining their GPAs.

By Michelle Hao

*Name changed to protect identity