Rights groups allege discrimination in access to school physical education
LOS ANGELES – A coalition of civil rights and community health groups in California has filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging discriminatory practices in access to physical education.
The City Project, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and other groups said recently disparities continue to exist in access to physical education in public schools based on race and ethnicity throughout the state.
“Too often these ethnic and racial disparities have a devastating impact on the long-term health and welfare of our children,” Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, said in a statement.
California education code requires schools to provide elementary students at least 200 minutes of PE for each 10 days of school. That requirement increases to 400 minutes for each 10 days in middle and high school.
The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education to ensure California schools are informed and fulfill their legal obligations.
A spokeswoman with the department declined to comment. A spokeswoman with the California Department of Education said the agency had not yet viewed the complaint and declined to comment further.
In a lawsuit settled earlier this year, 37 districts agreed to show proof they provided physical education during the school day in accordance with state law. Attorney Donald Driscoll filed the lawsuit after noticing his son lacked PE at his Northern California school.
That settlement applied only to the districts named in the suit, including Los Angeles and San Francisco Unified.
Driscoll, whose lawsuit was separate from the new complaint, said he believed disparities persist in access to physical education, most often impacting students with fewer opportunities to participate in sports and fitness outside school.
“So the physical education is especially important in school for those students,” he said.
The complaint refers to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs that receive federal funding. It also notes a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter sent to districts by the U.S. Department of Education noting equal education opportunity means requiring that all students have access to a diverse range of courses and extracurricular activities, including athletics.
“These programs help students distinguish themselves and develop skills that will help them in college and their careers,” the letter notes.
In their letter to the U.S. Department of Education, the groups point to several recent studies finding that minority and low-income students in California have less access to physical education and significantly lower physical fitness passing rates.
“There is disturbing evidence of both unjustified discriminatory impacts, and intentional discrimination, in access to resources for physical education and fitness in California public schools,” the letter states.