Lawsuit Challenges California Schools on Phys Ed Commitment

In a lawsuit filed last October and advancing now, 37 California school districts are being challenged to prove that their students are getting adequate amounts of physical fitness during the school day.

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court on behalf of Cal200, an organization for elementary school physical fitness headed by parent Marc Babin, claimed that the districts were “routinely ignoring the law,” specifically pointing out Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

“School districts have been routinely ignoring the law,” Driscoll said. And the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, “has been a particular offender. They give lip service to the idea that P.E. is important. That just plain doesn’t work. What that produces is kids who don’t get enough exercise.”

Physical education teachers in the districts under fire are being asked to show lesson plans that prove they are meeting state guidelines.  The lesson plans will offer schedules pertaining to instruction, activities and classes.  The records will then be compared to information submitted by education officials stating the number of hours in which students have completed physical education classes.

According to state law,students from kindergarten through sixth grade are required 200 minutes of physical education for every 10 days of class time, less than half an hour a day.  This time is in addition to lunch and recess times.

Court documents suggest that for at least LAUSD, the “allegations have already been rectified,” writes Sara Hayden for The Los Angeles Times.

Chad Fenwick, district advisor for elementary physical education for LA Unified, said the program has seen improvement since he came on board in 2004.

“We’re an extremely large district, the second largest in the nation. To have everything perfect all at once, it takes time. We did have problems, but we’ve made huge gains,” Fenwick said. “It’s not an easy task. We’ve been taking a systematic approach and it’s working.”

When Fenwick started, aides, offering “glorified recess”, which did not train students about proper fitness at all, were teaching some of the PE classes.  Today, the district puts aside $1.7 million of its funding to send instructors to train teachers.  Schools also post their PE activities online in order to ensure they are held more accountable.

“Schools just have many competing priorities,” Mariah Lafleur, one of the authors of the study, said. “But we think allotting the time for P.E. will, as a side benefit, improve students’ attention spans and behavior so they’re able to be well-balanced kids.”

Lafleur also mentioned that due to safety concerns, many children in the area do not get the opportunity to play outside at home.

“It might be the only chance they have to be active in their day,” Lafleur said.

LAUSD is making an effort to bring down childhood obesity rates in its district.  In 2005, 42.6% of students were obese.  That number dropped to 41.6% by 2010, due to an increase in healthy lunch choices and elimination of sodas and flavored milk.

Meanwhile in other states, such as South Dakota, the standards for PE classes are on the rise.  The state is in the process of revising the physical education standards, asking that students in each grade level master specific tasks, such as dribbling a basketball.

“People are afraid if you take kids out of the classroom for P.E., they’ll lose academic time and their [test] scores will go down,” Fenwick said, “but the brain and the human body work more efficiently when you’re physically active and healthy.”