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Physical Education Guidelines Middle & High School

California Department of Education (CDE) policy requires each district acquiring or building on a site of 70% or less of the recommended site size to document how the district's educational program, including physical education, can be carried out on the smaller site (Title 5 Section 14010(a) and (b)). This document outlines a process districts can use in demonstrating how the physical education program can be offered. The document is also useful in the master planning of sites and in developing educational specifications regardless of the size of the site.

The following guidelines are advisory only and utilization or compliance is not required by regulation or CDE. CDE's discretionary approval of exemption requests will be determined by specific circumstances on a case-by-case basis. For requests following this guidance, CDE should reasonably be able to determine if an exemption is approvable. Requests using other methods demonstrating compliance with the exemption provisions of the California Code of Regulations, Title 5 Section 14010(u) may also be submitted and be subject to other appropriate agency or expert review and consultation as determined necessary by CDE.

Legal Requirements for Middle and High School Physical Education
  • All students in grades 7-12 must receive a minimum of 400 minutes of physical education instruction every 10 school days. (Education Code Section 51222)
  • Local school boards may exempt students from any two years of physical education in grades 10, 11, or 12.
  • Beginning in July 2007, students must pass the physical performance test administered in grade 9 to receive the two year exemption. (Education Code Section 51241)
  • If exempted, students must be provided a variety of physical education elective courses. (Education Code Section 51222)
  • High school physical education course content must include instruction in each of the eight content areas:
    • The effect of physical activity upon dynamic health
    • Mechanics of body movement
    • Aquatics
    • Individual/dual sports
    • Gymnastics/tumbling
    • Team sports
    • Rhythms/dance
    • Combatives

Title 5 Section 14030 requires that school plans be developed based on an educational specification adopted by the district's governing board. This educational specification must include information on the delivery of physical education.

Step 1 - Determine number of physical education classes needed to serve the master plan enrollment of the school.

The number of students ultimately planned for the site needs to be used in the planning to ensure that when the site is built out, sufficient teaching stations are available. In making this determination, consider:

  • Class Size
    • The district's teachers contract or historical practice can be used. An average class size of 40 is a reasonable planning estimate.
  • The variety of programs to be offered:
    • General physical education - requires a variety of facilities to provide required course content and instruction.
    • Elective physical education - may require the use of a single facility for the duration of the course. Weightlifting and aerobics are common examples.
    • Modified physical education - courses that meet the needs of students with temporary conditions that restrict their participation in general physical education. Requires the use of a variety of facilities, typically a smaller class size.
    • Adapted physical education - courses that meet the needs of students with disabilities. This program may incorporate specialized equipment that is not shared with the general program.
  • The number of students taking physical education:
    • In determining the number of students for which physical education will be provided, the provisions of Education Code Section 51241 should be considered. This section defines circumstances in which high school students may be exempted from up to two years of physical education. For planning purposes in this document, 88% of the total school enrollment is a reasonable figure to use. Districts may wish to plan high school sites to provide physical education for all students in order to provide the district's governing board with flexibility in considering the exemptions. (Education Code Section 51241)

Divide the number of needed classes by the number of periods in which physical education is offered to determine the minimum number of needed teaching stations.

Step 2 - Identify physical education teaching stations.

Attach a site plan (Example A (PDF), description of the image on Example A, or Example B (PDF), description of the image on Example B) that identifies each teaching station.

Each teaching station must:

  • Have an assigned teacher.
  • Provide sufficient space for motor skill development.
  • Be appropriate to meet learning objectives.
  • Provide a buffer from other classes and consider the safety of each student.
  • Be large enough and properly equipped to allow all students time to participate with minimal time lost in waiting and in transition.
    • For example, a physical education class of 40 students will require four basketball courts. This would allow for ten students to be on one basketball court at a time without losing instruction time. These four basketball courts comprise a single teaching station.
    • A physical education class of 40 will require ten tennis courts to allow doubles play or 20 for singles play. The ten or 20 tennis courts comprise a single teaching station.
  • Drinking water should be readily available near each teaching station.
    • Portable drinking stations can be used to supplement permanent fixtures. The CDE recommends one drinking fixture per ten students in order to allow students to drink without excessively encroaching into instructional time.

The nature of the physical education instructional process often requires the use of two or more teaching areas during a single class period, as instruction may address the goals one or more of the content requirements. Thus, it is not feasible to develop the facilities plan based on one teaching area per class, per instructional period. In addition, the development of school master schedules may not provide for even distribution of classes across the school day schedule. Planning physical education facilities should include the minimum teaching stations based on content and enrollment, plus a minimum of two additional stations to provide needed flexibility.

In some cases, physical education instruction may be provided during the time that facilities are needed by both the physical education program and the extracurricular athletic program. This necessitates additional facilities to meet the requirements of both the mandated instructional program and the extracurricular athletic program. In addition, exclusive use of specific facilities by one or more of these programs may limit the flexibility needed to meet minimum requirements.

  High School A High School B High School C
Masterplan Enrollment 900 1,400 3,800
Percent Enrolled in Physical Education (based on historical rate of passage on the fitness test) 88% 88% 88%
Students in Physical Education 792 1,232 3,344
District Class Size 40 40 40
Needed Sections 20 31 84
Periods Per Day 6 6 6
Needed Teaching Stations 3 5 14
Flex-Planning Teaching Stations 2 2 2
Modified/Adapted teaching Stations 1 1 1
Step 3 - Identify the State Board of Education adopted California Physical Education Content Standards that are to be taught in each teaching station.

A minimum number of teaching stations is required to meet the high school course content requirements (see below). The type of teaching stations should be increased, based on the frequency of use in meeting the content requirements.

The State Board of Education adopted physical education curriculum standards (PDF).

Teaching Stations Needed Aquatics Body Mechanics Combatives Gymnastics Tumbling Individual Dual Sports Effects of Physical Activity Rhythms Dance Team Sports
Courts Area No Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes
Field No No No No Yes Yes No Yes
Gymnasium No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dance/Wrestling Room No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fitness Room Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pool Yes No No No Yes No No Yes
Classroom Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

School schedules will not be developed until the opening of the school. At that point attention needs to be given to the diversity of needs and scheduling constraints so that all students have access to all content areas. Such detail is beyond the scope of this guidance as this guidance is to be used to determine the number and type of teaching stations needed not the daily operational needs of a school.


The following resources also provide information on physical education planning and design:

Guide to School Site Analysis and Development (2000 Edition)

Educational Specifications: Linking Design of School Facilities to Education Program, 1997

For questions about required physical education minutes and curriculum, contact Linda Wilkinson, Education Programs Consultant, at 916-323-5798 or Questions about completing the physical education plan can be directed to the School Facilities and Transportation Field Representative assigned to the county.

Questions:   School Facilities & Transportation Services Division | | 916-322-2470
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, October 24, 2023