The Palo Alto Unified School District was named as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging reduced physical education hours in school districts, according to San Francisco County Superior Court documents.
The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 11 by Marc Babin, a taxpayer and president of Cal200, a California nonprofit advocacy group for the right of children to physical education in state elementary schools.
California Education Code section 51210(g) requires all school districts to include 200 minutes of physical education for every 10 school days from grades 1-6, exclusive of recesses and lunch periods. But the lawsuit claims that because the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act narrowed curriculum to bring all students to the "proficient level" on state tests, school districts have diminished physical activity below the state requirement.
The lawsuit names 90 school districts and elementary schools including Palo Alto Unified School District, Los Altos Elementary School District, Menlo Park City Elementary School District and Mountain View Elementary School District.
The suit asks for a writ of mandamus (which asks a judge to order elected officials to follow the law and perform their duties in a legal manner) and an injunction requiring the school districts to comply with the 200-minute provision and for the court to compel the California Department of Education to produce public records requested under the California Public Records Act. That request alleges that the Department of Education encouraged school districts to falsify documentation related to compliance with the state physical-education mandate.
"Recognition of the importance of physical education to America's children has widespread support. Schools offer a unique platform for children and adolescents to become more healthy and active," the lawsuit states. "Physical education provides an opportunity to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity each day."
One third of U.S. children are overweight or obese and nearly one third are inactive, according to a May 1, 2015, letter to the Senate Committee on Education by the American Heart Association, the American Council on Exercise and the National PTA.
The California Department of Education reviews school district compliance with the physical-education requirement through its Federal Monitoring Program. But the lawsuit claims that the Department of Education advises school districts to submit documentation showing compliance with the physical-education mandate, even if a teacher's schedule shows noncompliance, which has led to widespread fraud.
The lawsuit claims that a department employee sent emails as far back as March 2011 to the Porterville Unified School District advising a district employee to rescreen information sent to the department that showed noncompliance to indicate that a teacher had at least 100 minutes for the week rather than the 70 minutes the district initially submitted. The 100 minutes would put the district in compliance with the 200-minute requirement for every 10 school days.
The pattern of altered information through the same state employee continued through submissions made to him by other school districts, the lawsuit claims.
Palo Alto Unified responded to a Uniform Complaint filed by Cal200 in December 2014 by claiming the complain had merit or some merit, but continued to violate the physical-education requirement, the lawsuit claims.
District officials could not immediately be reached on Thursday for comment.