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Physical Education, Student Health and Civil Rights: LA Public Schools Adopt Implementation Plan

The Los Angeles Unified School District, in response to a community campaign, has adopted a plan to enforce physical education requirements requiring an average of 20 minutes of physical education in elementary schools every day and 40 minutes in middle and high schools. The school district, the second largest in the nation, is enforcing education and civil rights laws to help promote academic performance and youth development and reduce obesity and diabetes. The plan will ensure that schools provide properly credentialed physical education teachers, meet the physical education minute requirements, maintain reasonable class size averages, and provide quality facilities for physical education.

Obesity rates in the school district are above the national average. Evidence suggests that physical education of sufficient quantity and quality helps prevent childhood obesity. In addition, physical education and civil rights laws require equal access to physical education in California’s public schools to alleviate unfair disparities based on race, color or national origin.

The implementation plan is the result of a strategic campaign by The City Project, a policy and legal non-profit organization in California whose mission is to achieve equal justice, democracy and livability for all, working with teachers, parents, health and community activists, and school officials, including Superintendent Ramon Cortines and Physical Education Advisor Chad Fenwick.

The campaign includes five major elements. First, the teachers’ union United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) organized a public campaign to support physical education. Second, The City Project filed administrative complaints under education and civil rights laws to require the school district to enforce physical education requirements. Third, the school board unanimously adopted a resolution to enforce physical education and civil rights laws. Fourth, the district staff, under the leadership of Superintendent Cortines and Mr. Fenwick, adopted the implementation plan. Fifth, the campaign relied on social science research published by the California Endowment and others highlighting the relationship between physical education, obesity, and health disparities based on race, ethnicity, and income.

The school district serves over 600,000 K-12 students in over 770 schools. 92% are students of color, and 74% are low income (qualify for free or reduced meals).

Active Living Research, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is funding a study to assess the impact of the physical education campaign on student’s health. The principal investigators are Robert García, Executive Director and Counsel of The City Project, and Sarah E. Samuels, Dr.P.H., M.Ed., of Samuels & Associates. Dr. Elva Arredondo of San Diego State University and UCLA’s Dr. Brian Cole will serve as expert consultants on the evaluation.

“The physical education plan is the result of successful teamwork, including coalition building, multidisciplinary research, media, policy and legal advocacy. This is likely to be a replicable model in other states or countries,” according to Chad Fenwick, the Physical Education Advisor in the school district.

“Enforcing physical education and civil rights laws in Los Angeles is a best practice example to help students move more, eat well, stay healthy, and do their best in school and in life. We will take this campaign to other school districts that do not enforce physical education laws,” according to Seth Strongin, Policy and Research Manager with The City Project.

James Sallis, of Active Living Research at San Diego State University, noted, “Studying the implementation plan and campaign is a great opportunity to evaluate a multi-component campaign to improve physical education, which is an essential strategy for getting children active.”

The article by Robert García and Chad Fenwick entitled Social Science, Equal Justice, and Public Health Policy: Lessons from Los Angeles, is published in the Journal of Public Health Policy (2009) 30, S26-32, and is available here.

The public school campaign is a “tipping point in the physical education revolution,” according to the online journal Peaceful Playgrounds, available on the web here.

The administrative complaints were filed by parents Ike and Irene Kaludi; physical education teacher Cathy Figel; youth groups Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, and Antes Columbus Football Club; and health advocates California Pan Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) and Prevention Institute, working with The City Project.

The school district’s plan will improve education for all students:

[R]esearch indicates that physical education quantity and quality are particularly deficient for less affluent students, and those in racial and ethnic groups who are at high risk for being overweight and/or obese. According to the California Endowment . . . youth with the fewest resources are at the highest risk for health problems. Many students are not passing the state- required fitness test, and there are large disparities by race and ethnicity. Compared to non-Hispanic white and Asian girls, national data shows Black and Hispanic girls were less physically active. Less than 30% of students met all six standards in Grades 5, 7, and 9. Racial and ethnic differences are consistent with the pattern of lower quantity and quality of physical education in low resource schools serving mainly students of color. In Grade 5, for example, 34% of non-Hispanic whites passed all six standards, compared to 23% of Blacks and 20% of Latinos.

The complete plan applying physical education laws, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, California Government Code Section 11135, and applicable regulations, is available by clicking here.

The administrative complaint filed September 22, 2008, is available by clicking here.

Download the LAUSD Board Resolution Physical Education Is a Priority here.

Click here to download the Policy Brief on Physical Education and Equal Justice summarizing this information.

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