Saturday, September 24, 2011

Study Suggests Single-Sex Education Does More Harm than Good

Even as Kris pointed out that single-sex education is on the rise, a review article in the journal Science that was reported widely on yesterday (see, e.g., here, here, and here) casts doubt on claims that separating students by sex makes them better learners. But evidence does suggest that the practice promotes gender stereotyping and sexism. For instance, the review cites a recent comparative study of two preschool classrooms, which found that the classroom where the teacher used gender-specific language to address the children quickly produced greater tendency among the students, when compared to a classroom where no gender-specific language was used, to exclude children of the opposite sex and to rely on gender stereotypes. The study also references a Department of Education report found little overall difference in academic outcomes between children in single-sex schools versus those in coed schools. Factors other than sex, such as economic factors and parent involvement, are more likely to influence academic success.

The study's authors, who include psychologists, education specialists, and a neuroscientist who studies gender, have created a American Council for Coeducation Schooling, and are using their findings as the basis of a political movement to urge the Department of Education to rescind the regulations that allow for single-sex education, which were promulgated after the 2002 No Child Left Behind law authorize single-sex education in elementary and secondary schools as an exception to Title IX's general prohibition on sex discrimination. As we have pointed out on this blog in the past, many school districts (see, e.g.) appear to be implementing single-sex education in a broad, coercive, and groundless manner that is not authorized by the regulations.

Given the Secretary of Education's record support of single-sex classrooms such as those in his home city of Chicago, it will be interesting to see whether he is open-minded to reform and keeps in mind President Obama's professed commitment to evidence-based policymaking.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Single-sex classes growing at MN middle school

Must be the new school year, because we seem to be reading more and more stories about public schools experimenting with single-sex classrooms.
In Minnesota, Battle Creek Middle School experiments with single-sex classrooms began over five years ago with the number of single-sex options growing to the point where, this year, most of students' classroom time is segregated by gender. Previous incarnations of single-sex classrooms had students segregated for half the day and mixed the other half; but teachers reported an increase in disciplinary issues and lack of attention due to the desire of the students to socialize and have "party time" when they were reintegrated.
This situation--as well as the one in Indianapolis that I wrote about the other day is curious--is there much less socializing among just girls or just boys? Why is it only "party time" when boys and girls are present?
The article is fairly responsible in its coverage noting that no research to date has confirmed the value of single-sex education. It also notes the problem of perpetuating stereotypes, but then, unfortunately, includes line like this based on information from sources:
Teachers said they notice gender differences and tweak lessons accordingly. For example, boys tend to be more competitive and crave physical activity, they said, while girls are more organized.
Makes one worry about what teachers have learned about the research and what exactly they are doing with these so-called well-organized girls and competitive and physically active boys.
Also, no information on whether there are mixed gender options. Lack of such options could be a problem.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Boosters pay extra for coaches

The football boosters at Mercer Island High School in Washington want to offer the football coach a little extra money for his off-season duties. Realizing last spring though that they could not do so without violating Title IX, they got together with the parents' club of the gymnastics team to offer a similar deal to the gymnastics coach. The amount of the extra pay will be different; a discrepancy explained by the difference in the size of the respective programs. A seemingly good explanation.
Kudos to the people at MIHS for recognizing the potential booster-induced disparity.
It could be, as one administrator noted, a slippery slope given that most coaches do work in the so-called off-season.
Also a possible issue (not mentioned in the article) is that the outside salary will benefit more boys than girls because the football team is bigger. Also it looks like the gymnastic coach's off-season duties include helping the cheerleaders--which seems like a separate job--especially since he is not allowed to work with his own team members in the off-season, per the state association's rules. (Not sure exactly how the football coach is getting around this. One of the boosters said that there is no "select season" in football, which I'm pretty sure is wrong. Why would every other sport have a season and not football?)
The issue of booster clubs in high schools, and what they are and are not allowed to do, is gaining visibility. And schools are likely to have to continue to juggle the desires of boosters to support the most popular sports and the equitable distribution of amenities, facilities, equipment, and perks. The case at MIHS, though, seems far less contentious than others we have read about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Article Critiques Massachusetts's Anti-Bullying Statute

New England School of Law professor and Title IX lawyer Wendy Murphy recently published an article in the New England Journal of Crime and Criminal Confinement that analyzes and critiques anti-bullying statute that Massachusetts enacted last year. The statute requires school districts to enact bullying prevention policies that include “clear procedures for students, staff, parents, guardians, and others to report bullying or retaliation; . . . clear procedures for promptly responding to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation; . . . the range of disciplinary actions that may be taken against a perpetrator for bullying or retaliation; . . . [and] a provision that a student who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying or retaliation shall be subject to disciplinary action." School officials are also required to report any instance of bullying to the principal, who is then required to investigate the claim, report to law enforcement if the criminal in nature, take disciplinary action against the perpetrator, and notify the parents of all students involved.

According to Murphy, the law lacks meaningful enforcement. Specifically, by precluding a private right of action for victims, the law insulates school officials from legal action when they fail to comply with the law. At the same time, students have the right to sue school officials for discipline that curtails their constitutional right to free speech -- which may cover verbal harassment and cyberbullying. Thus, school officials are have stronger incentive to over-protect bullies to avoid the risk of liability under the First Amendment.

She also criticizes the statute for failing to address the overlap between bullying and civil rights. This omission tends to frame bullying and harassment as separate categories of conduct, which may steer victims of bullying from pursuing remedies under civil rights laws like Title IX. She argues that, in addition to amending the statute to provide a remedy against school officials for failing to address bullying in the manner required by law, the legislature should also incorporate "a clear cross-reference to federal and state civil rights laws in anti-bullying statutes."

Citation: Wendy Murphy, Sexual Harassment and Title IX: What's Bullying Got to Do With It?, 37 New England J. of Crime and Criminal Confinement 305 (2011).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

National Women's Law Center Hosts Title IX Webinar

The National Women's Law Center is hosting a free webinar called Rally for Girls' Sports: A Guide to Title IX for Parents, Coaches, and School Officials. NWLC attorney and Title IX expert Neena Chaudhry will "teach the basics, such as how schools can comply with Title IX and tips for recognizing Title IX violations in sports programs. All parents, coaches, school officials, and students who want to level the playing field are welcome."

Sign up here and participate online, Thursday, September 22 at 3:00 pm.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Women's Baseball League Reenacted in Wisconsin

Not a Title IX story per se, but someone just sent me an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about historical reenactments of the All-American Girls' Baseball League that is too cool not to post. Yesterday, a group called the World War II Girls Baseball Living History League staged a game between the Kenosha Comets and Rockford Peaches in authentic uniforms and using the rules and equipment of the day. What a cool project -- makes me wish I lived in Illinois or Wisconsin!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sexual Harassment Round-up

Here is a round-up of recent judicial decisions in Title IX sexual harassment cases. These summaries were prepared at my direction and supervision by Western New England law student Shiona Heru.
  • The First Circuit Court of Appeals addressed important questions regarding the actual notice requirement of a Title IX claim when they affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a hostile environment harassment claim filed by the mother of a six-year-old special education student against Puerto Rico for alleged sexual abuse by a bus driver. According to the record, the mother reported the abuse to a special education teacher who in turn referred the mother to a social worker. The mother claimed that the social worker “did not do anything” and that she tried to meet with the principal several times before removing her son from school and filing a lawsuit. The appellate court dismissed the mother’s claim because she failed to allege that the principal had actual knowledge of the sexual abuse and had the authority to enforce corrective measures against the alleged harasser on behalf of the school department.. The court rejected that the principal had “, constructive knowledge” sufficient to satisfy the notice requirement by virtue of the mother’s unsuccessful attempts to contact the principal. The court emphasized that a plaintiff cannot establish institutional liability through allegations that a school employee did not inform someone with the proper authority to take corrective action. Perhaps more importantly, the plaintiff has to prove that the funding recipient not only has control over the service provided and the environment in which the harassment occurs, but also that the appropriate person has actual knowledge of the harassment. In this case, the plaintiff is free to pursue her local law claims in Puerto Rico. Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 2011 WL 3689000 (1st Cir. Jul. 27, 2011).
  • A high school student’s Title IX claim against a school district in Pennsylvania survived a motion for summary judgment when the lower court determined found that a jury could find that a teacher conditioned the plaintiff’s ability to pass a driving test on her submission to his unwelcome sexual harassment advances. (We had earlier blogged about the case surviving a motion to dismiss.) The court also determined that there was sufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion that an appropriate school official had notice of prior violations by the teacher and the school district responded with deliberate indifference by pressuring the student to change her story, failing to prevent the teacher from contacting the student, assigning his wife as the student’s substitute teacher and publicly displaying support for the teacher’s innocence. Additionally, some of the 14th Amendment claims survived a prior motion to dismiss and were retained under Section 1983 which was enacted to provide a private remedy for violation of federal law. Even though a state is not subject to suit under section 1983, a state officer can be sued in his official capacity. This means that although punitive damages cannot be awarded against a municipality, the municipality can be held jointly and severally liable and ultimately be held liable through section 1983. E.N. v. Susquehanna Tp. School Dist., 2011 WL 3608544 (M.D. Penn., July 05, 2011).
  • A district court in Pennsylvania dismissed a high school student’s claim that North Allegheny School District officials permitted student-on-student harassment and failed to remedy a sexually hostile environment where the plaintiff was raped by a classmate in the school parking lot during school hours. Taking a narrow view of the requirement that school officials have actual notice of harassment – a view that conflicts with other courts’, see, e.g., Williams v. University of Georgia (institutional liability could be premised on university’s failure to respond to actual notice of football player’s sexual assault at a prior institution)-- the district court determined that notice of two prior incidents of sexual assaults filed by other high school students against the harasser did not constitute actual notice of sexual harassment of the plaintiff. Once school officials were aware of the assault, they took immediate action, thus insulating themselves from institutional liability for peer harassment under Title IX. Additionally, though the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for failing to sufficiently allege notice and deliberate indifference, it did emphasize that the harasser’s the repeated requests throughout their high school education that the plaintiff perform sexual acts upon him could qualify as sexual harassment. The fact that the plaintiff had consented to sex acts with the harasser in the past does not necessary preclude a jury from finding that the solicitation of those acts is “unwelcome.” Doe ex rel. Doe v. North Allegheny School Dist., 2011 WL 3667279 (W.D. Penn., Aug. 22, 2011).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Indianapolis high school imposes strict segregation

Since the case in Vermillion Parish (LA) was settled last year (disallowing single-sex classrooms), there has been a spot open for the public school that could execute the strictest form of sex-segregation.
Looks like Arlington Community High School in Indianapolis has taken that spot. And most people are happy about it. But that could also be an impression created by the story I read which took a generally positive tone. It also failed to note that this so-called nationwide research that shows single-sex education is better is somewhat specious.
But there certainly are students and administrators and teachers who like that there seems to be more participation and engagement in the classroom and less drama in the hallways. Yes--everything is segregated: hallways, buses, the cafeteria. The move to such strict segregation came after the principal felt that, given the extreme underperformance of his school, he had nothing to lose by implementing the segregation. Spending less time disciplining students in and out of the classroom certainly would seem to free up some time and space for more learning. But is this the best way to do this? What are the consequences? And are we really assuming that all boys and all girls are going to get along thus freeing the school from conflict? And, of course, the underlying racial stereotypes (the majority of ACHS pupils are students of color) are problematic.
A short news piece from Ms. magazine about the school and the new policy does mention this aspect; which is good because few media outlets do when discussing any of the single-sex education cases.

Another interesting aspect: the school's lack of success actually means it will be one of four high schools in Indianapolis that the state will take over from the school district next year. That may put an end to the segregation--or not. Assuming no one(s) challenge it before then.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

NCAA Adopts Policy for Including Transgender Athletes

The NCAA has approved a policy to govern athletics participation by transgender athletes who have transitioned to another sex. The new rule, which takes immediate effect, allows a transgender athlete who has transitioned from male to female to participate in women's sports after one year of hormone treatment that includes female hormones (estrogen) and agents that suppress the effects of male hormones in the body (testosterone blockers). The rule also clarifies that athletes who transition from female to male by taking testosterone are not eligible for women's sports, but may receive a therapeutic use exception* and be eligible for men's sports. A transgender athlete who transitions socially but not physically is still eligible for the sport that matches their birth sex. For example, Kye Allums plays women's basketball for George Washington, even though he goes by "he" as has not undergone any physical transition that involves testosterone.

The NCAA's new policy incorporates the recommendations of the report issued issued last year by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Women's Sports Foundation. It is receiving praise from advocates for equality and inclusion because it avoids many of the restrictions, such as genital surgery and legal sex change which do not affect athletic ability -- both of which are required, in addition to a 2 year period of hormone treatment, by the International Olympic Committee and other sport associations. The policy recognizes that in an educational setting, one in which one's opportunity to participate is limited to a short period of time, it is important to have requirements that do not go beyond what is necessary to promote equity on the field. There is no medical evidence that shows athletes who have transitioned with hormones compete at an advantage relative when competing in their transitioned sex. Medicine also suggests that it takes one year for physical changes in response to hormone treatment to be complete. Therefore, it makes sense to impose just a one-year requirement for hormone treatment, rather than the two-year period, plus surgery and legal sex change, that IOC requires.

*Therapeutic use exceptions are already granted to male athletes with conditions that result in lower-than-normal amounts of testosterone in their bodies. It is an "exception" because otherwise exogenous testosterone is a banned, performance-enhancing substance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Resolution Agreement Reached at Adrian College

An anonymous reader mailed me a copy of a Resolution Agreement between the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, and Adrian College in Michigan. In 2008, we blogged about ongoing investigation into a complaint against the college stemming from among other things the college's failure to include a women's locker room in its newly constructed "Multi-Purpose Stadium." (see here and here). Apparently, the inequities between men and women's sports at Adrian College were significant, as the college has agreed to remedies in every area covered by Title IX's athletic regulations. Specifically, the college has agree to:
  • Evaluate its intercollegiate athletics program "to identify one or ore women's sport team to add in the 2012-2013 academic year."
  • Develop a written replacement schedule for equipment and supplies, including uniforms, which will ensure equity by gender.
  • Increase the number of competitive events for softball and women's tennis.
  • Ensure that women's softball is not the only team stuck with 6 am indoor practices, but that that burden is shared by men's teams as well.
  • Ensure that the head coach for men's and women's track splits his time equally between the teams, and to hire an assistant coach for women's track.
  • Improve hiring practices to attract more qualified coaches to the women's program, including by increasing compensation and other conditions of employment to make the job more attractive to qualified applicants.
  • Construct a new locker room for women in the Multi-Purpose Stadium.
  • Renovate existing women's locker rooms in other facilities.
  • Renovate the women's softball facility to allow for night play, concessions, changing areas, and spectator viewing.
  • Assign the same number of "equivalently qualified" medical and training staff to men's and women's games.
  • Provide equivalent publicity ("e.g., media coverage, statistics maintenance, attendance at games, and other services") to men's and women's teams.
  • Provide recruitment funds to men's and women's teams "in proportion to each gender's participation rate in the athletics program" and, as needed, to the women's program at a greater rate in order to make up for the "significant" underrepresentation of women in the athletics program.
  • Adhere to various reporting and monitoring requirements with respect to these promises.
OCR will continue to monitor the agreement until it determines that the College has fulfilled its terms.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Franklin Pierce adds sports

Knowing the state of the economy, the fiscal state of higher education, and--having attended school in New Hampshire--the fiscal issues faced by NH schools, we were a little surprised to read that Franklin Pierce University has announced it is adding several sports.
No word on how these sports will be financed but it appears that the university has every intention of adding women's ice hockey (it already has a men's ice hockey team), men's and women's track and field, sprint football. It will also reinstate men's cross country (previously cut in 2003 for unstated reasons).
Interesting. Especially interesting is sprint football--which I had never heard of. Turns out it's the same as regular intercollegiate football. But all players have to weigh less than 172 pounds.
Reading further though it appears that the differences go beyond body weight. There is no pre-season. There will be no athletic scholarships. And the roster will be kept at 65 players. Also, FPU will not be investing right away in a stadium. Administrators are making arrangements with local schools over use of their facilities. In its inaugural season--scheduled for 2012--they will play a reduced schedule.
I really can't think of a more responsible plan to add football (regardless of how much the players weigh!).
Again, no word on where the funds for these additions will come from. FPU is a private school, but still...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Jury Awards $26,500 to Male Student Accused of Rape

Last week, a federal jury in Tennessee returned a jury verdict and award of $26,500 in favor of a male college student who had been accused of rape. The student, using the pseudonym John Doe, sued the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, charging that the university's failure to follow its published procedures in handing of the accusation against him constituted a breach of contract and negligence, violated Title IX, and unlawfully damaged his reputation. The jury concluded that the university was negligent, but reportedly found it to be 53% at fault, compared to Doe's 47%. The damages award constitutes tuition paid for the year that Doe did not finish.

The case began on August 29, 2008, when Doe had sex in his dorm room with a female student. Later that day, the female student reported to college officials that she had been raped. Three weeks later, Doe received notice of the charges from the university and was told to report to a hearing the following day. There, he was found responsible for sexual assault, for failing to recognize that the victim was too impaired from drugs or alcohol to provide consent. The university gave him a choice between two sanctions: a one-semester sanction, with the assault remaining on his record, or withdrawal from school, with the option to reapply later with an expunged record. Doe withdrew, and did not reapply.

Instead, he filed a lawsuit against the university, seeking up to $5 million in damages. In 2009, the judge dismissed Doe's claims that the university's actions against him violated Title IX, concluding that Doe's complaints did not include sufficient allegations to support a finding that the university was motivated by sex bias or negative assumptions about the male sex. Doe v. University of the South, 687 F.Supp.2d 744 (E.D.Tenn.2009). Later, the court dismissed Doe's claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, but cleared the way for his negligence and breach of contract claims to go to trial.

At the trial, which concluded last week, the jurors heard evidence in support of Doe's charges that the university failed to comply with its own procedures, including providing timely notice of the charges, conducting an appropriate and thorough investigation, cutting off proceedings when there’s insufficient evidence to support the charges, allowing Doe to bring a lawyer to the hearing, and considering all of the relevant evidence, including evidence favorable to Doe (like the accuser's use of prescription medication, which could have affected Doe's perception of her ability to consent). The jury concluded that the university's conduct in this case constituted negligence (though not breach of contract) and returned a modest damages award meant to compensate Doe for actual damages in lost tuition, not for claimed damage to his reputation and future earning potential.

In today's issue of Inside Higher Ed, experts speculate on the effect of this decision, believed to be the first of its kind, on other universities going forward. Everyone seems to agree that this case is a reminder that universities have legal responsibilities to both accusers and accused when handling sexual assault cases, and that ignoring the rights of the accused can result in legal liability. Of course, universities can be liable under Title IX for failing to protect the rights of the accuser. Earlier this year, the Department of Education has clarified and promoted awareness about universities' obligation under Title IX to those who report sexual assault. Universities were reminded of their obligation to publish and follow grievance procedures for sexual assault, to investigate claims even if the police are involved, and to not impose a higher burden of proof on the victim than what the legal system normally requires of plaintiffs in civil cases. Importantly, however, nothing about this recent case in Tennessee suggests that universities are in a double-bind situation and forced to respect either one student's rights or the other's. None of the procedures the university was accused of violating in John Doe's case would have, if followed, put the university at risk of violating the Title IX rights of the accuser. While Title IX requires universities to take accuser's claims seriously, the law anticipates and expects that the university will provide a fair hearing that does not curtail the procedural rights of accused.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sexual Harassment Roundup

Federal courts have recently issued several decisions in Title IX cases involving allegations of sexual harassment. I am grateful to Western New England law student Shiona Heru for helping me prepare these case summaries!
  • The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a harassment case against a school district in Texas, calling it “petty squabble, masquerading as a civil rights matter.” Drawing a distinction between sexual harassment, which is covered by Title IX, and generic bullying, which is not, the court refused to consider incidents arising out of dispute between cheerleaders, in which one female student allegedly spanked the plaintiff’s butt, spread rumors that plaintiff was pregnant and had hickies, could not be viewed as harassment motivated by the victim’s sex. Also, in addressing the plaintiff’s claim that the school district’s failure to notify the Title IX coordinator constituted deliberate indifference, the court made it clear that ineffective responses to harassment do not establish deliberate indifference. Sanches v. Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School Dist., 2011 WL 2698975 (5th Cir. Jul 13, 2011).
  • A federal court in Wisconsin rejected a school district’s attempt to dismiss a sexual harassment case involving a seventh grade student who is alleging that school officials failed to protect her from extensive verbal and physical abuse by four fellow classmates. The most egregious acts alleged included three consecutive attacks by two of the students who repeatedly hit the plaintiff with spiked track shoes resulting in the approximately 38 puncture wounds on the plaintiffs head, as well as an incident where two students beat her with a three-foot long tree limb which resulted in bleeding, lacerations, welts, bruising, emotional trauma, permanent scarring and severe bruising of several vertebrae. When the parents of the plaintiff requested that the plaintiff be permitted to attend another school, the school district refused and would not remove her harassers from her classes. The court considered these allegations, if proven true, to constitute deliberate indifference that could thereby subject the school district to liability under Title IX. Doe v. Galster, 2011 WL 2784159 (E.D. Wis. Jul 14, 2011).
  • A federal court in California refused to dismiss a case filed by a high school student who alleged she had endured severe sexual harassment by a school counselor. Specifically, the plaintiff had alleged that the counselor’s behavior over the course of six months, which included sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate physical contact and unwarranted monitoring, rendered the district liable under Title IX and other law. Though the district court dismissed those portions of the plaintiff’s claim based on conduct that took place prior to the plaintiff’s notifying the school of the counselor’s conduct, it did accept that the plaintiff’s allegations of deliberate indifference were specific enough to withstand a motion to dismiss claims arising from conduct that occurred after the plaintiff notified officials. Lilah R. ex rel. Elena A. v. Smith, 2011 WL 2976805 (N.D. Cal., Jul. 22, 2011).
  • A federal district court in New Jersey dismissed a sex discrimination and harassment case filed by a 22-year old male student against his undergraduate institution, the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The court found that the plaintiff’s selective enforcement claim, alleging that NJIT’s actions were motivated by gender, was flawed because he failed to demonstrate that his circumstance was sufficiently similar to a female student’s complaint where she reported a threatening comment made by the plaintiff. The court also dismissed the student’s sexual harassment under Title IX because his complaint did not include specific allegations that the institution had notice of the harassment he was facing from his peers, or that it responded to that harassment with deliberate indifference. Tafuto v. New Jersey Inst. of Technology, 2011 WL 3163240 (D.N.J., Jul. 26, 2011).