Del Mar school board exercises restraint in coping with PE lawsuit: ‘We have a phenomenal program’

At the Jan. 21 Del Mar Union School District board meeting, Del Mar Heights teacher Gina Vargus was dressed in workout clothes and sneakers. She informed the board that the reason behind her sporty attire was that she had spent part of the school day leading her second-graders through a boot camp class.

Vargus’ exercise education was a nod to a class action lawsuit against the Del Mar Union School District regarding physical education time. The board approved a settlement agreement during closed session on Dec. 10. However, the court still needs to authorize the settlement, so the official details won’t be revealed until March, according to Superintendent Holly McClurg.

The lawsuit is very frustrating, according to McClurg. She said they made the unfortunate decision to settle and put an end to it.

“We have a great, phenomenal PE program,” she said. “The settlement is not about PE time at all; it’s about paying off attorney fees.”

McClurg said the settlement will have to come out of the general fund, money that could be going to students’ instruction.

“It’s bothersome because I know how much great PE our students get,” she said.

The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of a parent, Marc Babin, and an organization he created called Cal200, arguing that most elementary schools are not providing the required instruction in PE.

Del Mar was among the 37 districts named in the suit, which included San Francisco Unified, Los Angeles Unified and three other San Diego-area elementary-school districts: Solana Beach, Chula Vista and Oceanside.

The state education code requires schools to offer 200 minutes of PE for every 10 days of class. Teacher records submitted to the California Department of Education verify the numbers of PE hours that students have.

McClurg said since the settlement, a whole new round has started, demanding records of PE minutes from more school districts.

“It’s an abuse of the legal system,” said Shelley Petersen, assistant superintendent of instructional services. “It couldn’t be farther from what is in the best interest of our children.”

McClurg said the lawsuit is particularly troubling, as the district’s students have some of highest fitness rates in the state.

In the district, each first- through sixth-grade student gets 200 minutes every two weeks. Each school site has a PE specialist through the Extended Studies Curriculum who provides a part of the instruction, and the classroom teacher fills in the rest.

In Vargus’ second-grade class, for example, the specialist teaches 45 minutes every week and she teaches 55 minutes. Vargus teaches the 55 minutes in a 30-minute block and a 25-minute block at the same time each day on two separate days.

One day, Vargus will lead students through games that build sportsmanship, and on other days they do a mix of calisthenics, yoga and Pilates.

In PE with the specialists, the teachers promote an understanding and appreciation for physical activity, healthy habits and positive choices.

All fifth-grade students compete in FITNESSGRAM, in the spring, testing students on aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition.

At Ocean Air, PE students in grades 3-6 have a “muscle of the month” in which they learn about different muscles and their function. This month, teacher Michael Davis is schooling kids about the gastrocnemius (calf muscle), and next month they will learn about the heart.

Beyond PE, nearly every campus hosts a running club that encourages students to get moving. Last year, Ashley Falls students ran more than 10,000 miles on Wednesday mornings and during lunch.

Each site also hosts a Junior Olympics competition, giving students the opportunity to showcase abilities in soccer, basketball, tennis and track and field, and culminating in a district-wide meet.