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Unanimous 3-0 California Court of Appeal Mandates Schools to Shape Up

Half of CA School Districts Fail to Meet Minimum Physical Education Standards

Los Angeles, CA – In a ruling that may have lasting impact, the California Court of Appeal has ruled that public schools must provide physical education to comply with state law that requires at least 200 minutes every ten days, an average of 20 minutes per day in elementary school, not including lunch or recess.  The amount rises to at least 40 minutes on average per day in middle and high school.

Of the nearly 1,000 school districts in the state of California, 188 were audited from 2004-2009 and exactly half were not enforcing physical education minutes requirements, according to public records obtained from the Department of Education by The City Project, a non-profit legal and policy advocacy organization that is working to enforce physical education laws throughout the state.

“Thankfully, the California Court of Appeal recognizes that law means law and that public schools must provide adequate physical education. The ruling will help students move more, stay healthy, and do their best in school and life as part of a quality education,” according to Robert García, Executive Director and Counsel of The City Project. He added, “The health of California’s next generation is at stake here. What could be more important?”

The appellate court ruling overturned the decision of the Sacramento trial court that ruled the law set goals but not legally enforceable requirements, and that private parties like parents do not have the right to enforce the law. The Court of Appeal disagreed.  “We conclude that [the law] means what it says and that, while individual school districts may have discretion as to how to administer their physical education programs, those programs must satisfy the 200-minute-per-10 school day minimum… [The legislature’s] ultimate goal was obviously to improve the health and well-being of elementary school students through a minimum level of physical education.”

Plaintiffs, a third grade student in the Auburn Unified School District and his father brought the action against the District, the School Board, and the California Department of Education, claiming that the District and the Board did not comply with the law, California Education Code section 51210.

“The idea that students will learn more if they’re glued to their seats is just wrong, said Donald Driscoll, the parent’s attorney.  “Students need to get up and run around to be healthy, and to learn better.  The law says children need physical education. It is time for the schools to do it.”

The case now goes back to the trial court for further proceedings.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest district in the nation with over 600,000 students and 770 schools, voluntarily adopted a board resolution and physical implementation plan in December 2009 in response to an organizing campaign by The City Project and diverse allies.  The school district 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.  The campaign was led by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, California Pan Ethnic Health Network, Prevention Institute, and parents and teachers working with The City Project.

“The physical education plan adopted by the Los Angeles Unified School District is a best practice example for districts across the state to provide a quality education for the children of California,” according to Dr. Robert Ross, President of the California Endowment. “Research tells us physically active and fit kids get better grades and have better overall health.”

“The court’s decision is an enormous victory for children’s health in California.  We will work with the new governor and the new attorney general to enforce physical education laws throughout the state,” according to Harold Goldstein, Executive Director, California Center for Public Health Advocacy.  The Center originally brought public attention to the fact that school districts routinely disregard physical education laws.

Click here to read the Court of Appeal decision in John Doe v Albany Unified School District.

Click here to learn more about the LAUSD campaign to enforce physical education and civil rights requirements in public schools.

Contact: Robert García / (213) 213-1035 / rgarcia [at] cityprojectca.org