Law protects districts from suits over P.E.

Oct 14, 2015 by

By Jill Tucker –

Suing school districts for failing to provide enough physical education just got a lot harder in California under a new law unanimously supported by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

The urgency legislation — which took effect when the governor signed it Friday — targeted a series of lawsuits filed across the state by a Bay Area lawyer, who collected more than $1.1 million in attorney fees related to the cases.

Albany attorney Donald Driscoll sued more than 120 school districts, saying they were failing to provide the physical education hours required by state law — 200 minutes every 10 days for elementary students and 400 minutes for middle and high school students.

The first three dozen districts that were sued, including San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, settled with Driscoll and paid his attorney fees, saying it would have been expensive or difficult to prove compliance in every school and classroom.

Driscoll then sued 90 more districts, including Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Los Gatos, Lafayette and Orinda.

“If you talk to them, they’ll tell you (physical education) is important, and yet they don’t do it even though it’s the law,” he said. “It hurts children. They know it.”

Research supports Driscoll’s claims, with up to half of state districts failing to consistently provide enough physical education, the only part of a public education subject to time requirement.

The new state law creates an administrative complaint process for those wanting to challenge a district’s adherence to the law regarding physical education, deferring or eliminating legal action.

Some education officials called Driscoll’s tactics the equivalent of a legal shakedown by a lawyer with a history of serial lawsuits.

In the early 1990s, Driscoll sued small and large grocery stores under the Unfair Competition Act, alleging they illegally sold cigarettes to underage youth for greater profit. Driscoll, through an organization he created, hired the teens to try to buy the tobacco.

Driscoll said he filed the education lawsuits to fight for the health of children. “Physical education, more than any other subject, is about the time you spend doing it,” he said.

The law comes too late for the districts that signed settlements, which require them to post every teacher’s class schedule, have principals conduct spot checks, and report results to the school board every semester. The districts spent millions of dollars on legal expenses, including Driscoll’s fees, to resolve the suits.

“Physical exercise has significant health benefits, and SFUSD is fully committed to ensuring our students receive high-quality and well-rounded physical education instruction,” said Gentle Blythe, a spokeswoman for San Francisco Unified. “This new legislation clarifies an oversight process for P.E. instructional minutes while giving districts an opportunity to address any possible complaints without costly and time-consuming litigation.”

Source: Law protects districts from suits over P.E. – SFGate

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