Yesterday I attended (virtually) NWLC’s webinar on the Prince George's County Title IX case. I think this is an important case study in Title IX compliance because it shows that it doesn’t necessarily take a lawsuit to get a school district to agree to full Title IX compliance. This is a remarkable contrast to, say, the recalcitrant school board in Birmingham, Alabama, which continues to litigate with Coach Jackson rather than make peace with Title IX.'
But in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a story that started off similarly to Coach Jackson’s took a drastically different path to resolution. Community activists, including a local softball umpire named Jack Mowatt, noticed disparities in the playing conditions for male and female athletes. For example, the boys at Bowie High School played baseball on a field that looked like this:
While the girls at Bowie High School played on one that looked like this:
It wasn't just the fields' appearances that caused alarm. The girls' fields had safety problems that the boys' fields didn't have. One had low baseline fences that didn't offer the bench any protection from foul balls. Another had a dropoff just steps from the left field line, making it impossible to safely attempt catches in foul territory. Mowatt was so concerned told the county he would no longer serve as umpire under these conditions.
Title IX requires a program-to-program, rather than sport-to-sport comparison. So the disparities in softball and baseball fields did not alone create a Title IX violation. But when NWLC and community activists looked into the programs county wide, they found disparities in participation rates, scheduling, equipment, and funding.
Fortunately, a demand letter from NWLC followed by negotiations lead to a county-wide agreement in August 2006. The county school district not only agreed to full compliance with the Title IX regulations, it even agreed to a few things beyond what the regs require, such as publically self-auditing their compliance going forward and proportionate funding for boys' and girls' programs.
In the end, the school district was so on-board that it announced the agreement in a joint press conference with NWLC. The board president herself called it a prototype for other districts. I hope what really turns out to be the prototype for other districts is the cooperative approach among all concerned that lead to an effective and efficient resolution of compliance problems.
(photo credits to Jack Mowatt, posted with his permission)