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Civil Rights Groups File Complaint against Discrimination in California Schools, Physical Education Programs



Dr. Harold Goldstein
California Center for Public Health Advocacy
Office: (530) 297-6000, Mobile: (530) 400-9106

Robert García, J.D.
The City Project
Mobile: (213) 260-1035

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Civil Rights Groups File Complaint against Discrimination in California Schools, Physical Education Programs 

LOS ANGELES, CALIF., AUGUST 14, 2015 … A coalition of health and civil rights groups today submitted an administrative complaint to the U.S. Department of Education against racial discrimination and disregard for state and federal law within the California Department of Education (CDE) and many school districts. According to the authors, educators in California have not satisfied their legal obligation to provide quality physical education to Latino and African-American children in the state.

“Too often these ethnic and racial disparities have a devastating impact on the long-term health and welfare of our children,” said Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a co-author of the filing. “Without adequate physical education, children are more likely to be obese, develop type 2 diabetes or have a lifetime of costly chronic disease. This is a tragedy to which education leaders have turned a blind eye.”

California law requires public schools to provide a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education every ten days in elementary schools and 400 minutes in middle and high schools, all taught by a qualified teacher. This legal minute requirement has been neglected in about half of California schools. Many of the schools fail to assign teachers properly credentialed in physical education, as is legally required.

Federal law, as described under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its regulations, requires the CDE and federally funded schools to conduct quality audits to monitor and ensure compliance with civil rights and physical education laws. This legal obligation has largely been ignored. The CDE does not adequately audit the legal minimum of 10 percent of school districts each year or post findings online as required.

As a result, only 26 percent of Latino and 22 percent of African-American students pass the annual physical fitness test, according to a 2015 study by the University of Southern California (USC) Sol Price School of Public Policy. In at least 400 school districts – nearly half of the 900 surveyed – just one in ten African-American students are physically fit, compared to one in three for the average non-Hispanic white student in California.

Another peer-reviewed study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that schools that do not comply with minimum physical education time requirements are more likely to serve disproportionately Latino or African-American students than compliant districts.

“Disparities in access to physical education and fitness are an unfortunate symptom of the state’s failure to follow physical education and civil rights standards,” said Robert García, founding director and counsel for The City Project, a co-author of the filing. “Our coalition hopes this complaint will move the California Superintendent of Public Instruction and school districts to alleviate these indefensible disparities in education and fitness. Physical education is key to our students’ academic success and health.”

The administrative complaint was sent to the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon and signed by six allied organizations: The City Project, California Center for Public Health Advocacy, California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Prevention Institute, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and Anahuak Youth Sports Association. The complaint is not a lawsuit or related to any pending lawsuit.

The full letter, available here, seeks to have the California Department of Education, school districts and schools voluntarily comply with the law, using the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Physical Education Tool Kit and Checklist. It also asks schools and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to adopt a valid auditing system to ensure compliance with civil rights and physical education laws.

“We at CAHPERD have been well aware of the ‘fitness gap’ regarding African American and Latino students, and their unequal access to quality physical education here in California and around the nation. We are proud to be part of this action alerting the federal government about the physical fitness problem in many of our communities – a problem that is a huge public health issue. School boards and administrators can be inspired by – and feel confident in – knowing that enhancing the quality and time for physical education and physical activity during the school day has been proven to be a fundamental step to improve the academic achievement of their students.” Betty Hennessy, Ph.D., President, California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (CAHPERD).

“Physical activity is essential for health and for learning. All students deserve access to free, high-quality physical education, which is an essential element of a healthy and equitable school environment. Physical education provides students with the life skills needed to promote mental health and prevent inactivity-related illnesses, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes. That’s why Prevention Institute insists that all public schools provide the opportunity for physical activity and physical education.” Larry Cohen, Executive Director, Prevention Institute.

“Disparities in access to sports opportunities and physical fitness programs are another unfortunate aspect of our separate and unequal system of public education – with potential long term health impacts for children of color.  We recently examined these disparities in our report Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities (with the National Women’s Law Center). The complaint is an important step to addressing these disparities in California and ensuring that all children have adequate and comparable access to physical education.” Philip Tegeler, Poverty & Race Research Action Council.

“Our children have a right to healthy, active lives – and that starts with healthy, active schools. Physical education is an essential element of every child’s education. It enhances learning and is critical to tackling childhood obesity, a problem which disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. Racial disparities in access to physical education in public schools not only perpetuates these problems, but also violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is why New York Lawyers for the Public Interest supports the coalition’s efforts to remedy this critical situation and advance health and educational equity.” Erin George, Health Justice Advocate, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI).

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The City Project is a multicultural, Latino-led team of civil rights advocates working with diverse allies to achieve equal justice, democracy and livability for all.

The California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization at the forefront of solving the obesity and diabetes epidemics by advocating for groundbreaking policies that build a healthier California.

The California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CAHPERD) is a nonprofit that promotes the organizing and progress of school, community and statewide programs of health, physical education, recreation and dance.

The Prevention Institute serves as a national focal point for primary prevention practice — promoting policies, organizational practices and collaborative efforts that improve health and quality of life.

The Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) was founded by health care providers, consumers and advocates to impact Latino health through enhanced information, policy development and community involvement.

The Anahuak Youth Sports Association (AYSA) is a nonprofit organization that was created to serve as an alternative to drugs, gangs and crime, using soccer as a hook to keep children off of the streets.