Law Office of Michelle Ball curriculum/grades/testing,graduation What Are The Physical Education Mandates In California Schools?

What Are The Physical Education Mandates In California Schools?

School minimums for PE

Last Updated on August 15, 2023 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

Did you dread exercise as a student 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 in school on a daily basis (unless exempted).

PE class for California students
PE classes are important for students in public schools

Why There Are PE Minimums for Students

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 minutes to fight student obesity and get fit students, America chose other routes, such as attacking sugary drinks and blaming fast food. At the same time, physical education classes and student activity levels dwindled over time. COVID didn’t help.

Physical Education Minutes Are Mandated By Law

With the crisis of deteriorating schools, dwindling test scores and America falling behind the world in education, physical education (PE) classes became something easy to cut out of school curriculums. However, PE is written into California state law as a mandatory part of student educations

PE Minutes Determined by Grade Level

In first through sixth grades, California Education Code section 51210 (a)(7) requires 200 minutes every 10 school days: twenty minutes a day.  A parent even filed suit on the school physical education issue when his school district cut PE minutes to 120 minutes every 10 days in Doe v. Albany Unified School District. The parent won, and the California court of appeal validated section 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 section 51222.  

Public school sports may replace PE
Students may be able to substitute PE classes with school sports

PE Minute Exceptions

If a student 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 (Ed Code section 51241).  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 section 51222), if they are involved in sports (Education Code section 51242), if they attend school less than half the normal time,  if they have a physical disability (Education Code section 51241) and perhaps for other reasons.

Minimum PE Minutes Required to Graduate

The legal minimum for graduation from high school is two PE courses (see Education Code section 51225.3).

Complaints on Physical Education Minutes

Issues with the amount of physical education minutes given to students may be submitted to the school district via the uniform complaint procedure.

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

Student rights and education lawyer Michelle Ball can help students with uniform complaints, curriculum, and PE issues. As a student attorney in Sacramento, Michelle Ball may become involved in issues in Roseville, Auburn, Galt, Long Beach, Rancho Cucamonga, Chula Vista, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other locations.

[originally written November 7, 2013]