California School Districts Settle Physical Education Case

in California, California Litigation, NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK

An advocacy group advocating for California elementary school children’s right to physical education has reached a settlement with the San Francisco and Los Angeles Boards of Education and scores of other school districts throughout that state.  The settlement, which would require elementary schools to keep publicly available documentation proving that school children are getting the minimum state-mandated amount of physical education, is now awaiting approval by Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss.  The group, Cal200, originally filed its class action in 2013 in the Superior Court of the State of California, San Francisco County, alleging that the 37-named districts failed to provide students with 200 minutes of physical education instruction every 10 school days (in other words, less than 3.5 hours of physical education over a 2 week-period) as required by California Education Code Section 51210.

Under increasing pressure from budget cuts and standardized tests, many districts had let physical education fall by the wayside. Thus Cal200 has been on a crusade in the state to ensure that districts are providing school children with minimally required levels of physical education. In their first major victory, in Doe v. Albany Unified School District, California’s Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, held that the lower court erred in finding that the 200-minute-per-schoolday minimum in the state education code was discretionary and aspirational, and did not impose a mandatory duty on school districts.  According to the appellate court, the language of the statute was “clear on its face” in imposing a “mandatory duty”  on districts to provide not less than 200 minutes of physical education to elementary students each 10 schooldays.  Where districts failed to discharge this duty, the court further found that parents of school children affected by the districts’ actions could sue to compel the districts to comply with the education code.

Cal200 has indicated that they intend to continue using litigation as a tool to advocate for the rights of California school children to physical education. Accordingly, a major insurer for the districts in the state issued a risk alert on November 22, 2013, encouraging districts to review their physical education programs to ensure compliance with the education code because “Plaintiffs are seeking additional districts to be named as defendants.”  This past November, Cal 200 did, indeed, find at least one additional district to name as a defendant when it filed a related action against the Oakland Unified School District. Other districts are yet to be named.

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