Monday, October 24, 2011

Women's College in Virginia Has Policy to Expel Transgender Students

Hollins University, a private, women's college in Virginia, is in the news this week for its policy to expel transgender students who "self-identify" as male and have taken one of the following steps towards transitioning to the male sex: "1) begins hormone therapy with the intent to transform from female to male, 2) undergoes any surgical process (procedure) to transform from female to male, or 3) changes her name legally with the intent of identifying herself as a man." This is an unfortunate policy because it denies compassion and withholds tolerance to students who may need them most. Instead, it places transgender students in difficult position of having to choose to either uproot themselves from their education and community, or else suppress and deny their deeply-felt identify.

Hollins appears to be the only women's college in the country with such a strict policy to exclude transgender students who have already matriculated, though other women's colleges have been reported to have engaged in other acts of discrimination, including rejecting a transgender alum from conducting alumni interviews (Wellesley) and not letting a transgender student serve as an overnight host for prospective students (Smith).

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports (see also permanent link, subscription required) that while Hollins University has had this policy for four years, it has recently come under fire from some Hollins students and faculty, prompting a university diversity committee has decided to study it. Even though no one has been expelled under the policy, several students are believed to have transferred because of it. One faculty member, Women's Studies professor Susan Thomas, worries that the policy "sets the university up for problems."

As a legal matter, I agree -- the policy does set the university up for problems under Title IX. As a private institution, Hollins's undergraduate program is exempt from having to comply with Title IX's prohibition on sex discrimination. But this exemption is, by its terms, limited to admissions. See 38 U.S.C. 1681(a)(1) ("in regard to admissions to educational institutions, this section shall apply only to institutions of vocational education, professional education, and graduate higher education, and to public institutions of undergraduate higher education.") Even if Hollins could legally exclude applicants because of their sex (either their natal sex, or their transitioned sex), this exemption does not give a women's college license to discriminate against students who have already matriculated by expelling them because of their transitioned sex. Nor does the exemption allow schools like Smith and Wellesley to discriminate against transgender students and alumni in the manners described above.

I hope that Hollins reconsiders this policy, in light of its legal, ethical, and educational shortcomings.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Room for Debate" over Single Sex Education

Single-sex education remains in the public discourse, in the wake of the much-discussed article in Science that calls into question the presumed benefit of single-sex classrooms, and the news of Vermilion Parish's decision to curtail through 2016 single-sex classes at its middle school in settlement of its litigation with the ACLU. The New York Times "Room for Debate" series addresses single-sex education today by including columns from all angles on the debate -- from those most critical of single-sex education as a misguided placebo for the performance gap in public education, like Galen Sherwin (ACLU attorney),Verna Williams (University of Cincinnati law professor) and Richard Fabes (child development professor at Arizona State), to the more moderate positions like Rosemary Salomone (St. John's law professor) who supports more limited use of single sex education, to the stronger proponents of single-sex education like Jane Dammen McAuliffe (President of Bryn Mawr), Leonard Sax (author) and Christine Hoff Summers (author).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Florida High School Reinstates Coach After Retaliation

In June, school officials at Jensen Beach High School in Martin County, Florida, terminated girls' lacrosse coach Michele Ruth, who had advocated for her team's access to the district's best athletic facility, the stadium built for the football team, but which is otherwise used during the spring lacrosse season. This week it was reported that the school district agreed to a settlement with Ruth to keep her from filing a lawsuit. As part of the settlement, Ruth is reinstated to her coaching position, and the girls lacrosse team will have their home games in the stadium. The settlement agreement (available here) also provides that the district will reimburse Ruth's attorneys, including Linda Correia and the law firm Public Justice.

Reportedly, the district had claimed that it terminated Ruth for coaching without shoes, in violation of a school policy necessitated by the dangerous condition of the field used for lacrosse, due to the presence of "glass and nails and snakes." Two problems with this explanation probably influenced the district's decision to settle rather than face a jury: first, the coach's shoes only became an issue after she raised the Title IX implications of the athletic director's decision to exclude the lacrosse team from the stadium, and thus appear to be pretextual. Second, the unsafe conditions of the field, which the district would have to emphasize as part of its defense, not only underscore Ruth's request to play in the stadium, but raise separate questions of liability, including under Title IX.

One local columnist is calling Ruth a role model to her students for having the "courage and conviction to stand her ground."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Former Coach Settles Claim for Retaliation Over Scheduling Complaint

By personal correspondence from a source close to the case, I've learned that former girls' basketball coach Amber Parker has settled her lawsuit against the Franklin County (Indiana) Community School District, in which she claimed she was retaliated against for filing a lawsuit against the Indiana High School Athletic Association to challenge the inequitable scheduling of girls' basketball games. The district will pay Parker $28,500 to drop the retaliation suit that alleges the district failed to renew her teaching and coaching contracts to punish Parker for her advocacy for equity in scheduling. My correspondent suggests that Parker was seeking comparatively modest compensatory damages, which suggests that the district was willing to pay a premium to keep the case from a jury.

Parker's lawsuit against the IHSAA, which has been handed off to another plaintiff in light of Parker's relocation to another state, is not affected by the settlement. Recall that a district court determined that the IHSAA did not violate Title IX by scheduling girls basketball games for fewer Friday night games, and that decision is on appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

School District to Renovate Softball Fields

The Kennett Consolidated School District in Chester County, Pennsylvania, will improve its girls' softball field, having voted this week to retain a contractor to design and conduct the renovation, at an estimated cost of $30,000. Reportedly, the boys' baseball fields have better playing surfaces, dugouts, and a scoreboard, and the school board wants to bring the girls' fields to the same level in order to comply with Title IX.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

No Investigations into Oregon Complaints

The Department of Education has announced that it will not conduct investigations into the complaints filed against 60 school districts in June.

No reasons for this decision appear in any news report available at this time. My understanding, however, is that OCR dropped the complaints because they did not contain evidence to support allegations that the districts were violating all three prongs of the three-part test, as is required for a Title IX violation to occur. Specifically, OCR required more evidence to support allegations that the districts were in violation of the third prong, which measures whether school districts have satisfied all unmet interest of the underrepresented sex. Generally, the complaint based allegations of unmet interest on the fact that districts offered fewer girls' sports than are sanctioned by the Oregon State Activities Association.

Under normal circumstances, I think that basing a prong three allegation on evidence that schools don't offer girls' sports that are popular in the state, as evidenced by their recognition by the state athletic association, is a viable one. Remember, the complainant isn't required to prove that a violation exists -- that's OCR's job -- just give the agency a reasonable basis for conducting an investigation. Moreover, the Oregon complainant isn't the first to rely on state athletic association's list of sanctioned sports to support allegations of prong three violations; the National Women's Law Center did so when it filed 12 complaints against schools across the country earlier this year, and those complaints have not been dismissed. Perhaps when faced with the prospect of a single regional office having to investigate 100 schools at once, OCR is requiring more of complainants than it ordinary would?