Schools are here to serve students.

The Ottumwa Community School District's vision statement says: "Engage, educate, and empower every student every day." Its mission statement says: "Inspire every student to think, learn, achieve, and care."

We added emphasis on the word student in those two statements.

During this week's school board meeting, there was a brief discussion on physical education at Ottumwa High School, particularly the conditioning class.

You see, the district has a good problem. There are more students interested in the school's physical conditioning offering than there are slots available.

With high demand, there are students interested in the class that can't take it. There are also student-athletes not able to take the class, which has upset some coaches.

Here's how the course is explained in the district's course guide: "This course is for all students who are serious about improving their strength, athleticism, and overall physical condition." There are components for strength and weight training, and speed and quickness.

Sounds like a good way for students to get, and stay, in shape. There are benefits for this kind of course that extend beyond just creating more competitive athletes. That there's interest exceeding demand in the program is a welcome sign in an era where childhood obesity continues to grow, now impacting 1 in 6 children in the United States.

During the brief discussion, though, a sentiment was expressed that got our attention.

It used to be this program was only available for the district's student-athletes. That requirement was lifted, making the program open for all students on a first-come, first-serve basis.

On Monday, school board member Morgan Brown said this about the program: "Ultimately I would love for everybody to be able to take it that wants to, but while we're currently restricted or limited, I do think we ought to be giving our athletes first right of refusal on those classes."

That's Brown's opinion, and we doubt he is alone. We can understand where Brown is coming from and the temptation to give athletes preference. But doing so would violate the district's mission and vision statements, and violate the district's top goal of providing for, and advancing, the education for students.

Activities and athletics all serve important functions in school districts. But they never supersede the educational function, nor should non-participating students be disadvantaged from educational courses designed for the entire student body.

Put simply: Student-athletes should not be given preferential treatment for any course.

Activities director Scott Maas said he has focused on creating more sections and purchasing more equipment to create more availability, with the end goal of allowing any student interested in the class access to take it. That's exactly where the focus should be, and where it should stay.

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