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Minimum Physical Education Requirements in California Schools


Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
Did you dread exercise as a child or did you long to run and play kickball during math or English instruction? It seems that the time allotted for Physical Education (PE) has dwindled over the years, but California students still have a right to receive PE on a daily basis (unless exempted).
PE may seem like an obvious need: of course students should be taught baseball, basketball, how to run fast or just play with a team.  It is not as obvious as you may think.  Rather than ramp up PE to fight obesity, America chose other routes, such as attacking sugary drinks via taxes, attempts to stop the sale of extra large sodas, blame on fast food, while at the same time PE and children’s activity levels dwindled over time. With the crisis of deteriorating schools, dwindling test scores and America falling behind the world in education, PE became something easy to cut out of school curriculums.  However, PE is written into state law as a mandatory part of our children’s educations.
In first through sixth grades, California Education Code §51210 requires 200 minutes every 10 school days: twenty minutes a day.  A parent even filed suit on the issue when his district cut PE minutes to 120 minutes every 10 days in Doe v. Albany Unified School District.  The parent won, and the court of appeal validated §51210 and its PE mandate.
For students in seventh through twelfth grades, the amount is even higher, with a 400 minute every 10 day requirement outlined in California Education Code §51222.  If a physical fitness test is passed in grade 9, a student may be exempted for up to 2 years of PE in tenth through twelfth grades.  However, alternative physical education elective classes must be made available if the student is not going to participate in traditional PE.  
Students may get out of some PE hours to engage in Drivers Education (Education Code §51222), if they are involved in sports (Education Code §51242), if they attend school less than half the normal time,  if they have a physical disability (Education Code §51241) and perhaps for other reasons.


The legal minimum for graduation from high school is two PE courses (see Education Code §51225.3 (a)(1)(F)).

Have you checked whether your child’s school is meeting these legal minimums?  If not, an investigation into the situation may be needed.