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Groups Allege California Is Falling Short in Phys. Ed. Opportunities for Minorities

Six health and civil rights groups filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights on Friday, alleging California is failing to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not providing equal access to physical education opportunities to minority students.

According to the groups' complaint, the state's education code requires elementary schools to provide students with at least 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days, while middle and high schools must provide 400 minutes over that same time span. However, a number of recent studies over the past decade have found that black and minority students "are systematically denied quality physical education and are less physically fit than other students in California public schools," the complaint alleges.

"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 filing states.

In addition, California's education code requires the state superintendent to audit at least 10 percent of districts each year to ensure they're compliant with the P.E. requirements. The state department of education is also supposed to collect data on minutes of  P.E. instruction from grades 1 through 12 and post a summary online. According to the complaint, the state is not compliant with either of those requirements.

The groups asked OCR to ensure the state department of education, districts, and schools "comply with the legal obligation to provide students with equal access to resources for physical education and fitness without regard to race, color, or national origin." They also want OCR to issue a Dear Colleague letter to all public schools in California "regarding their legal obligation to provide students with equal access to resources for physical education and fitness without regard to race, color, or national origin."

If the state department of education continues to not comply with Title VI's requirements for P.E. access, the groups would like the U.S. Department of Education to "effect compliance by a reference to the U.S. Department of Justice," by either terminating or suspending federal financial aid, "or by any other means authorized by law."

"Disparities in access to physical education and fitness are an unfortunate symptom of the state's failure to follow physical education and civil rights standards," said co-author of the filing Robert Garcia, founding director and counsel for civil-rights group The City Project, in a statement. "Our coalition hopes this complaint will move the California Superintendent of Public Instruction and school districts to alleviate these indefensible disparities in education and fitness. Physical education is key to our students' academic success and health."

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