Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NWLC webinar

The National Women's Law Center, much in the news lately because of the filings of 12 Title IX complaints against various school districts nationwide, will be offering a free webinar about Title IX compliance tomorrow. Senior Counsel at NWLC Neena Chaudhry will be giving the webinar which begins at 1pm (eastern) and will focus on understanding and complying with the law.
The event, titled Rally for Girls' Sports: A Guide to Title IX for Parents, Coaches, and School Officials, does require pre-registration. If you are interested, you may do so here.
This event is part of NWLC's larger Rally for Girls' Sports campaign.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First-Class Locker Rooms Remedy Title IX Violations at N.C. High Schools

Last year we blogged about Title IX violations at the high schools in New Hanover County, North Carolina -- in particular, the inequitable locker room facilities that had girls' teams doubling up and changing in the weight room, and the county's ongoing efforts to honor a 2008 compliance agreement with OCR. But today there's good news for the girls at Hoggard and Laney high schools, as the county purports to have completed all of the necessary renovations to comply with Title IX. Of the new, spacious girls' locker room with varnished wood lockers (a "carbon copy" of the existing boys' locker room), Hoggard girls' basketball coach Ray Beatty said,
Everyone that's been in there has been overwhelmed, especially the girls that have been with me for a while[.] It's more like a college atmosphere now than in the past. My girls probably just felt like second-class citizens because the boys had such nice facilities, but now they feel like first-class citizens.
To me, this quote epitomizes the intent and effect of Title IX, indeed, civil rights laws in general, and provides the most compelling counterargument to those who say the law is unnecessary and unimportant. No group should be stigmatized by second-class treatment. Discrimination in athletics, whether it be in the number of participation opportunities for each sex, or the quality of their playing fields and locker rooms, sends a clear message to students about whose athletic experience society appreciates, expects, and respects. It's obvious that they should be equal. It's not obvious why it takes government intervention to make schools realize that too, but until it is, Title IX is both necessary and important.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Title IX Violations to be Remedied in Arrowhead, Wisconsin

A recent investigation into Title IX violations at Arrowhead High School in Wisconsin lead OCR to conclude, for the second time in recent years, that the school was not providing equal opportunity to female athletes. The school has agreed to fund alpine skiing and lacrosse, though the superintendent characterizes this a a voluntary, proactive decision and is seeking to challenge OCR's determination that the high school is in violation of Title IX.

In 2008, Arrowhead settled a complaint about unequal treatment by agreeing to make improvements to softball and field hockey facilities.

UPDATE: a reader kindly emailed me a copy of OCR's letter of findings, so I am able to add some additional details to the press account I summarized this morning.

  • Arrowhead High School had a four-percentage-point disparity between the percent of athletic opportunities for girls (43%) and the percent of girls in the student body (47%). OCR characterized this as a substantial disparity not in compliance with prong one's substantial proportionality test because it amounted to 124 participation opportunities, well over the amount necessary to field a team in one or several sports.
  • Next, OCR found that though the disparity had decreased since 2006 (it was as high as 5.3%) this does not satisfy prong two's requirement for continuous expansion of opportunities for the underrepresented sex because it was due to a decrease in the percentage of female students rather than the addition of new athletic opportunities. Moreover, prong two compliance was foreclosed by the fact that Arrowhead has only added one new sport for girls in the last 20 years, and had turned down a request to fund the existing self-funded lacrosse team.
  • OCR also found that the existence of two, self-funded club teams demonstrates unmet interest and ability in additional varsity sports for girls, thus precluding Arrowhead from prong three compliance. The girls' Alpine ski team has existed since 2006 and has grown from 10 girls to as many as 21. Last year, the skiers competed successfully against fifteen other teams in five invitational meets. A girls' lacrosse team also provides opportunities for as many as 69 girls divided onto four squads. Though lacrosse is not sanctioned by the WIAA (neither is alpine skiing), the lacrosse team is a member of the Milwaukee Area Youth Lacrosse Association and competes against the other 6 other girls' lacrosse teams in that league, as well as other schools in the Madison area and from Illinois -- all within 70 miles of the school. Therefore, there is unmet interest and ability in sports for which there is sufficient competition in the school's normal geographic region of competition.
  • The school district had informed OCR through correspondence spanning the last several months that it would fully fund lacrosse this school year, that it would partially fund (50%) the alpine ski team next school year, and fully fund the ski team in the following (2012-13) school year. OCR has closed the complaint "based upon these commitments," but has required the district to verify its compliance with those commitments going forward, and to that end imposed several reporting requirements spanning the next several years.

Court Applies Title IX Standards to Harassment of Student With HIV

A recent decision from an Indiana federal district court applied Title IX's standard for institutional liability for peer harassment to a cause involving students' harassment of a fellow student who is HIV positive. Parents of P.R., a middle school student, sued the school claiming that its failure to address the harassment violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Consistent with other courts, the court borrowed the "deliberate indifference" requirement from case law interpreting Title IX, reasoning that the
Title IX's standards for imposing institutional liability for peer harassment should apply to ADA/Rehabilitation Act suits as well, owing to the similarities between the statutes. Where Title IX operates to ensure that no person is excluded from or discriminated against because of sex by federally-funded schools, the ADA and Rehabilitation Act ensure that person is excluded from or discriminated against because of disability in public programs.

After borrowing Title IX's peer harassment standard, the court proceeded to apply the standard to the allegations in the case. Ultimately, it concluded that the school could not be liable because it responded appropriately to each of the three alleged instances of harassment when they occurred. School officials met with offending individuals, and in one case, a student's parents. When the offender was a school employee (a coach who asked, seemingly innocently but with acknowledged insensitivity, whether P.R. had AIDS), the offender was admonished and apologized. None of the offenders re-offended, suggesting that the school's response was appropriate.

While ultimately this school district was held not to be liable for peer harassment of a student with HIV, the decision should help put schools on notice that they must be as diligent protecting student from harassment based on disability as they are required to be about harassment based on sex.

Decision is: P.R. ex rel. Rawl v. Metropolitan Sch. Dist. of Washington Township, 2010 WL 4457417 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 1., 2010).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Massachusetts State Colleges Fall Short of Title IX

A recent article in Commonwealth Magazine suggests that state colleges and universities in Massachusetts are falling short of Title IX's requirements for equity in athletics.

Here are some of the article's specific findings:
  • Women's teams at Massachusetts state colleges and universities on the whole received only 38% of the $29.2 million collectively allocated to men's and women's athletics. There is no requirement that schools spend the same amount of money on men's and women's sports, but a disparity this large calls into questions whether teams are receiving equal treatment in access to support and resources as required by law.
  • UMass-Amherst spends nearly twice as much per capita on male athletes as it does on female athletes.
  • It spent just 30% of the $618,000 devoted to recruiting on recruiting for women's teams.
  • State colleges and universities on the whole pay head coach of a men's team is 26 percent more than what a head coach of a women's team makes; assistant coaches on the men's teams on average make 37 percent more than those on women's teams -- a disparity largely driven by the salaries of UMass men's basketball coach Derek Kellogg, ($215,000) and football coach Kevin Morris ($200,000). In contrast, the former women's basketball coach at UMass who coached for eight seasons topped out at $145,000.
  • UMass-Amherst handed out $5.9 million in full and partial athletic scholarships to 382 students. Men received 56 percent of the scholarship money and women 44 percent -- a disparity that would be even worse if it controlled for the higher number of female athletes who have larger awards because they are out-of-state. This is a likely violation of Title IX's requirements that scholarships be awarded in proportion to participation rates of each sex.
  • At Westfield State University, women represent 52 percent of the school's enrollment and only 46 percent of the school's athletes, and at Bridgewater State University, women make up 60 percent of the student body but only 42 percent of the school's athletes. Bridgewater officials interviewed in the article claim compliance with the other two prongs that are alternatives to proportionality.
  • Participation data submitted by UMass shows athletic opportunities for women identical to the percentage of women in the student body (both are 49%), but this figure includes 10 male practice players on the women's basketball team, and more female than male track athletes who are "triple counted" as members of winter, spring track and cross-country teams.
An interesting article indeed. Perhaps it will inspire some legal action?

[thanks, Elliot!]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

National Women's Law Center Files 12 Complaints Challenging Sex Discrimination in HS Athletics

The National Women's Law Center announced today that it has filed administrative complaints against twelve school districts across the country to challenge sex discrimination in high school athletics. These districts are, according to NWLC President Marcia Greenberger, "the tip of the iceberg" in terms of the problem of sex discrimination in sports. Nationally, high school girls receive only 41% of athletic opportunities despite constituting half of the student population, which translates in absolute terms to a disparity of 1.3 million opportunities. NWLC's efforts will surely raise awareness about the problem as well as send a message that noncompliance has consequences.

NWLC singled out one school district in each of the Department of Education's 12 enforcement regions, and selected the targets based on participation data collected by OCR most recently in 2006. All of the target districts have (1) double-digit participation gaps, demonstrating a failure to comply with prong one's proportionality test, (2) a trend in declining opportunities for girls, which shows failure to comply with the continuing expansion test of prong two, and (3) schools that offer fewer sports for girls than sanctioned by state interscholastic association, suggesting a high likelihood of unmet interest in violation of prong three. Those districts are:

Chicago Public Schools (IL)
Clark County School District (NV)
Columbus City Schools (OH)
Deer Valley Unified School District (AZ)
Henry County Schools (GA)
Houston Independent School District (TX)
Irvine Unified School District (CA)
New York City Department of Education (NY)
Oldham County Schools (KY)
Sioux Falls School District (SD)
Wake County Public School System (NC)
Worcester Public Schools (MA)

If after investigation OCR determines that these districts are indeed in violation of Title IX, it will likely require the districts to agree to a compliance plan and subject the districts to continued monitoring to make sure it is sticking to the plan's deadlines for compliance. More unusual, but possible, remedies include a government lawsuit that would impose compliance obligations as part of a court order, and the termination of federal funding, although that has never occurred in Title IX history.

NWLC has posted the complaints on its website, and you can also see a chart comparing the participation rates in the target districts here.

NWLC's initiative is part of its new campaign called Rally for Girls' Sports: She'll Win More Than a Game, to provide advocacy for equity in high and outreach to parents. The initiative includes a hotline: 1.855.HERGAME, students and parents to get advice about inequities in their own districts.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Advice Column Takes on Title IX and Gender Stereotypes

Part of the "Ask Amy" column in today's Washington Post addressed the Title IX implications of a coach requiring a player to conform to gender stereotypes with respect to appearance:

DEAR AMY: I am a girl in my junior year of high school, and the volleyball coach won't let me compete until I shave my underarms and legs (our uniforms are sleeveless tops and shorts).

I don't want to be forced into something that I feel is completely unnecessary. Leg and underarm hair is a completely natural part of becoming a woman.

Is this discrimination? Is there anything I can do (besides shave)?

I really want to play volleyball! -- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

DEAR GONE: If your coach also insisted that the male volleyball or basketball players must shave their underarms and legs, then perhaps this wouldn't qualify as discrimination.

I'm going to assume that your coach does not make the male players at your school adhere to the same shaving practices.

I shared your letter with Lenore Lapidus, director of the Women's Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, who responded, "This is clearly gender discrimination, based on stereotypes of how girls and women should look." Lapidus would like to remind your coach that Title IX prohibits discrimination in any institution receiving federal funds.

Title IX is the federal statute that pushed open the door for girls to compete in sports on an equal footing with boys.

Lapidus suggests that you start by talking to the coach. "Try to work it out at school. It seems like something they should come around about because this is fairly clear-cut." If your coach continues to insist on this shaving rule, take your concern to the principal. I hope you will stand up for your right not to be forced to shave any part of your body that you don't wish to shave.

Good advice, Amy!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Boys playing field hockey

Boys playing high school field hockey on historically all-girls' teams has caused the occasional flare-up in the gender equity/Title IX discourse.
I came across this article about a not-quite-a flare-up last month. I probably wouldn't have paid too much attention because it does not seem to be an especially contentious situation, but this story is in my backyard, so...
In South Hadley, MA, two boys--brothers, actually--are playing on the very successful South Hadley High School field hockey team. After initial concern about the boys dominating play, it seems everyone is pretty happy about the situation. The coach sees herself as having 16 players, not 14 girls and 2 boys. She's a little too close to saying "I don't see gender" for my comfort, but if everyone is indeed okay with what is happening--then, good. I am not surprised that a community like South Hadley is accepting, welcoming even, of boys playing with girls. And, according to the article, boys have been playing field hockey in western Massachusetts since the 1980s. And a Massachusetts Superior Court ruled that boys could play on girls' field hockey teams. This year alone several western Massachusetts communities have at least one boy playing field hockey.
I am not opposed to integrated sports--in theory. And in practice, this one seems to be working--for South Hadley.* What their opponents think or say, well...I assume some may not be so happy. [Post season starts this week. South Hadley went 17-0-1 this season and has earned a second seed in the tournament. The article about post-season play made no mention of the boys playing with girls issue.]
The invocation of Title IX by the author, though, confused me. He wrote that Title IX
"grants equal gender opportunity to females and males." And then states:
"it should be emphasized that neither the Menards [the brothers] nor South Hadley broke any rules. Actually, it’s just the opposite: they’re following the rules of Title IX."
I'm not really sure which rules he is referring to here. Title IX does not prohibit integrated sports. It does not provide, however, opportunities for girls to play in boys' contact sports (though other laws have compelled schools to, for example, allow girls on football teams). It does require the historically underrepresented sex be provided equitable opportunities.
And because there is still no requirement that high schools report their athletic department data, in the way colleges and universities do, we don't actually know how many athletic opportunities the girls in South Hadley receive in comparison to the boys.
Again, I like the idea of integrated sports. I think there are many benefits to such a situation. But what if those boys are taking away opportunities from girls when boys already have more opportunities? That situation becomes a little more sticky.

* In another nearby western MA town, people were not so happy that a boy was playing with the girls--in 2001. I hesitate to put up this link to Rick Reilly's column about the situation in Shelbourne Falls because parts of it are a little offensive, but it covers the issue well so...