California Schools Must Follow Phys. Ed. Law, Court Rules

By Mark Walsh — December 10, 2010 1 min read
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Usually, there’s a kid who will do anything to get out of physical education class.

But in California, one elementary student and his father have sued their school district for the opposite—more time in the gym. Their lawsuit alleges that the boy’s school wasn’t offering the amount of physical education required by state law. Now, a state appellate court has largely agreed.

The lawsuit on behalf of the boy, identified in court papers as John Doe, perhaps to avoid the wrath of those classmates unenthusiastic about structured exercise, said California law requires 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days. The Albany Unified School District, near Berkeley, offered only 120 minutes every 10 days at the boy’s elementary school, the suit said.

A state trial court ruled for the school district, holding that state law sets out a common state curriculum but allows districts some flexibility in meeting the needs of their students.

In a Nov. 30 decision, however, the 3rd District California Court of Appeal ruled for the Does on what state law requires and allowed the family to correct some procedural deficiencies with their lawsuit.

“We conclude section 51210, subdivision (g), imposes a mandatory duty on school districts to include in an adopted course of study for grades one to six physical education for a total period of not less than 200 minutes each 10 schooldays,” the appellate court said in its unanimous opinion in Doe v. Albany Unified School District. “Although one might reasonably question the wisdom of the Legislature micromanaging the state’s education system by mandating that schools throughout the state, regardless of circumstances, provide a minimum physical education requirement, that is nevertheless precisely what the Legislature has done.”

The court noted that lawmakers had made legislative findings in recent years that most children “are not physically fit” and “lead inactive lives,” with 70 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys ages 6 to 12 unable to do a single pull-up.

The court ordered the trial court to allow the boy and his father to amend their suit to seek a court mandate requiring the school district to increase its physical education offerings.

In this statement on its website, the Albany district says it is considering whether to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.