Impact of Litigation on Compliance With California Physical Education Laws in Elementary Schools

Image of children running through playground.

Litigation around school physical education mandates led to increased accountability to and compliance with the law.


Background: School physical education (PE) is one of the most effective public health tools to increase youth physical activity, yet compliance with PE mandates is low. In an effort to ensure adherence to state PE law, a 2013 lawsuit was filed against 37 California school districts that were found to be noncompliant. This study sought to assess school personnel’s perceptions of the lawsuit’s impact on PE mandate compliance, understand barriers and facilitators to lawsuit compliance, and identify potential unintended consequences of the lawsuit. Methods: Phone interviews (n = 97) were conducted with personnel in districts/schools that were parties to the lawsuit and in matched control districts/schools that were not parties to the lawsuit. Results: Interviewees reported that PE minutes increased in schools that were parties to the lawsuit, primarily due to settlement requirements mandating PE tracking and reporting, thereby increasing accountability for PE. Time lost on paperwork was the most often cited barrier to compliance. Unwillingness to participate in PE-related research for fear of incrimination was the primary unintended consequence. Conclusions: When existing PE minute laws are not implemented or enforced, greater accountability is needed. In this case, litigation appears to be an effective accountability mechanism to increase compliance with law.

Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

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