Do California Schools Limit Access to Physical Education Based on Discriminatory Factors?

The United States Department of Education may soon determine whether California public schools are using discriminatory factors like ethnicity and race to restrict physical education opportunities to students.

On August 13th, 2015 several civil rights and community health groups filed an official administrative complaint with Catherine E. Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights with the United States Department of Education, alleging that the federal government is not fulfilling its legal obligation to certify that state public schools are providing the adequate amount of physical education guaranteed to students under state law. The complaint claimed that Latinos and African-Americans in particular were suffering from a lack of physical education.

The six organizations affiliated with the federal complaint include:

  • City Project
  • California Center for Public Health Advocacy
  • California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
  • Prevention Institute
  • Latino Coalition for a Healthy California
  • Anahuak Youth Sports Association

According to the Associated Press, California law stipulates that all state public elementary schools must supply at least 200 minutes of PE for every ten days. All state public middle and high schools must supply at least 400 minutes of PE for every ten days. However, roughly 50% of Californians polled said public schools have failed to meet this legal mandate.

Under federal law, all schools supported by the California Department of Education (CDE) and the United States government are required to assess quality control audits to confirm PE regulations are being met. Yet, the CDE has largely neglected to preform the necessary number of audits needed to prove compliance.

As a result, only 22% to 26% of Latino and African-American students passed annual physical fitness assessments in 2015. And in nearly half of all the schools districts investigated in that year, only one in ten African-Americans students were considered physical fit, while one in three non-Hispanic white students passed physical fitness examinations in California.