Parents Can Sue Schools for Skipping Gym Class, Court Rules

Filed under: In The News

running kids photo

Although childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate, many school districts are minimizing physical activity. Credit: Yuri Gripas, AFP/Getty Images

In an ironic turn of events, schools are now getting in trouble for skipping gym class.

According to a ruling this week by the California Court of Appeals, parents can take their children's public schools to court to force them to provide the minimum amount of physical education required under state law, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

California's education code requires schools to offer 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days for students in grades one through six and twice that amount for students in grades seven through 12 -- and neither lunch nor recess counts toward that requirement.

The ruling could spell bad news for a lot of state schools, since a small-scale survey conducted a few years ago found more than half failed to provide the required minutes of physical activity, the Chronicle says.

The P.E. issue came light last year when a parent with a child at Cornell Elementary School in Albany, Calif., sued the school district for enforcement of the code, alleging the school wasn't meeting the minimum requirement, Donald Driscoll, the parent's attorney, tells the Chronicle.

The judge in the Sacramento trial court, where the original case was tried, ruled in favor of the school district, saying the state's physical education rule was advisory and not a requirement. In addition, the original ruling found that a private party, such as a parent, had no standing to enforce the law.

But with a 3-0 vote this week, the California Court of Appeals overturned the original ruling.

"We conclude (the law) means what it says and that, while individual school districts may have discretion as to how to administer their physical education programs, those programs must satisfy the 200-minute-per-10-school day minimum," the judges write in the decision.

The case will now return to the Sacramento trial court to determine whether or not the Albany district is actually complying with the law.

Michael Pott, the attorney that represented the district in the case, says the law gives flexibility in interpreting physical education, which, he tells the Chronicle, can include health, nutrition and things including teamwork and active play. Whereas, he says, the plaintiff's interpretation "was that it needed to be stick and a ball, outdoor running for 200 minutes every 10 days."

The California Department of Education, which was named as a defendant in the case because of its role in enforcing the education code, agrees with the appellate ruling that gym class minutes are mandatory, the newspaper reports.

"We have always had the view that the minutes are required," department spokeswoman Hilary McLean tells the Chronicle. "Unfortunately, due to the state budget crisis, we've never been funded to do the monitoring. It is up to local districts to comply with the law."

Driscoll tells the Chronicle physical activity is emphasized in the state code because it's key to a child's well-being.

"Kids need time to play; they need time to burn off their energy," he says. "Now there's a mechanism for enforcing the law."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.