The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the nation, has adopted a policy satement on Physical Education Program Compliance with Equal Protection Laws. The school district adopted the policy under physical education and civil rights laws in response to the physical education campaign by The City Project working with a diverse alliance to help students move more, eat well, stay health, and do their best in school and in life.
The policy relies on evidence-based research on the importance of physical education teachers and programs to improve student health, youth development, and academic performance, and to alleviate health disparities. The policy seeks to ensure compliance with physical education and civil rights laws. Those laws prohibit recipients of public funds, including the school district, from engaging in practices that have the intent or effect of discriminating based on race, color or national origin.
At a time when civil rights enforcement can be difficult to achieve, the school district’s policy is consistent with the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Ricci v. DeStefano, commonly known as the New Haven firefighters’ case. The Supreme Court there recognized the principle that voluntary compliance through the planning process is the preferred means of achieving the objectives of the equal protection laws. The Court held that a strong basis in evidence of impermissible disparate impacts during the planning process can justify a race-based remedy under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination. Title VII disparate impact cases including Ricci are relevant to interpret the Title VI disparate impact standard, as applied by the school district in the policy.
The policy is consistent with that Supreme Court decision. The school district through the planning process relied on a strong basis in evidence of impermissible disparate impacts in physical education and health to remedy deficiencies in physical education. The strong basis in evidence includes the empirical research on disparities in physical education and health by the California Endowment and others. Indeed, the policy statement cites evidence of a history of intentional discrimination in public schools. In addition, the remedy adopted by the school district is not race based, unlike the remedy at issue in the Ricci case. The remedy adopted by the school district requires improving physical education for all students. The policy statement is also consistent with President Barack Obama’s emphasis on ensuring that recipients of federal funds, including the school district, comply with equal justice principles and laws.
Important work remains, however – monitoring compliance by the school district with the policy statement and laws in the years to come to ensure students move more, eat well, stay healthy, and do their best in school and in life.
Download The City Project’s Policy Brief on Physical Education, Health and Equal Justice by clicking here.
Download the article by Robert Garcia and Chad Fenwick on Social Science, Equal Justice, and Public Health Policy: Lessons from Los Angeles, in the Journal of Public Health Policy (2009) 30, S26–S32 by clicking here.
Download the school district’s policy statement by clicking here.