Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Title IX should (and already does) apply to high schools

As we noted yesterday, a lawsuit against the Department of Education has been filed claiming that the application of the three-prong test to high schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Here's a little more on that. And we are sure there is much more to come.
A significant amount of attention has been paid of late to the spate of complaints filed against school districts alleging disparities in the sport opportunities high school provide to their male and female pupils. Recap: NWLC's 12 complaints last fall, and the more recent ones targeting a majority of districts in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

Vocal opponents of such attempts to give more girls the opportunity to play sports--under the guise of "personal choice" and "reverse discrimination"--the College Sports Council, and others, have spoken out against what they believe is the misapplication of the three-prong test to high school athletics. The lawsuit they filed yesterday in federal court attempting to get the judiciary on their side was a long time in the works, I would imagine, but comes now at a time when these issues are very much in the spotlight. An additional reveal was, as we mentioned in yesterday's post, the group's new name: American Sports Council. This allows the former CSC to, I guess, legitimately turn its attention to high schools. And fighting discrimination against boys does reflect the American way.

ASC, when it was CSC, attempted this same move--to get rid of the three prong test--except with college sports. It didn't work. Courts have consistently held that all of Title IX's provisions apply to high schools (and other entities) as well. And, as Erin noted yesterday, we predict the outcome will be the same.

As well it should be. In fact, I argue that the three-prong test is even more applicable--or easily and equally--applicable in the high school context. Here's why.

First, let's address some misconceptions. Opponents of the three-prong test--specifically the proportionality test--say that applying the test to high schools is going to result in a million boys being denied sporting opportunities. They say that budget-strapped schools will, of course, have to cut sports for boys. But proportionality is NOT required. ASC keeps invoking the "safe harbor" rationale saying that this phrase--which came in a 1996 clarification letter from the Department of Education--means that schools will, of course, attempt compliance with that prong in order to avoid lawsuits. (You can see a You Tube video from the group about the filing.)
Let's clear some things up. Proportionality is a safe harbor because it is numbers based. Numbers don't lie. Except when they do. Like when schools manipulate rosters in order to make it seem like they are offering opportunities to girls and women--when they are not. I don't think this is the Department of Ed's problem. This is laziness and utter disregard for a gender equity law--passed almost 40 years ago--that we still cannot seem to adequately enforce.
Second, if these opponents truly believed that girls were less interested in playing sports then, I believe, they would be making greater efforts to prove it. Develop the methods to sufficiently measure interest and let's see. Opponents say that this opens up schools to lawsuits. Well, schools aren't doing a great job avoiding lawsuits right now as they manipulate rosters and continue to deny female athletes equitable treatment. A good faith effort goes a long way with me--and others like me. But we don't see it happening. We see avoidance of the issues--at all costs--even millions of dollars (as a result of jury awards and settlements).
So why are high schools arguably even better suited to the three-prong test?
Well, the gender division in most high schools (and I am speaking largely about public schools here) is close to 50/50. In other words--it shouldn't be that hard to offer equal opportunities. High school sports are often just a progression of student-athletes' careers from youth sports in a way that the transition from high school to college is not as natural or expected. It's hard to believe that the numbers aren't there given the growth in youth sports.
Second, the valuing of participation is somewhat more emphasized in high school sports. Because high school sports are not expected to be big revenue generators in the way intercollegiate sports are, the philosophy of sport as an educational and growth experience is more at the forefront and less easily disregarded and lost amid large and complicated athletic department budgets. And so, of course, opportunities should be equitably distributed when we're talking about an educational endeavor.
They don't have to worry about expenditures such as recruiting and scholarships, either.
I have read several pieces that complain that we feminists are lawsuit happy and attempting to dismantle boys' sports with these recent filings. First, these are complaints--not lawsuits.
There is no desire to kick boys out of sports. But again, Title IX has been around for four decades. What have schools been doing? Advocates for women's sports get villainized because we expect that schools and the government actually follow and enforce this law. These complaints serve to both put high schools on notice that they cannot continue to be ignorant of Title IX. And they're a wake-up call to OCR which has been somewhat complacent in its enforcement at the high school level.
Is there ever going to be a good time for us to request that girls be given what they deserve? The economy was pretty decent in 1996, as I recall. If schools had truly believed that proportionality was the safe harbor of Title IX, they would have had the means to implement it then. And prior to 1972? Well there were boon periods then too. Yet there was no widespread movement to add sports for women. Hard to argue that we don't need Title IX.
Progress is neither innate nor organic. Equality does not just manifest itself because years pass.