Monday, November 07, 2011

OCR Drops All Idaho Complaints But One

The Office for Civil Rights will reportedly drop the complaints against 77 of the 78 Idaho school districts cited in the mass-complaint filed over the summer. Only the Meridian School District, the largest in the state, remains subject to OCR investigation for claims that it violated Title IX by failing to provide an equitable number of athletic opportunities for boys and girls.

There does not seem to be a legal distinction for singling out Meridian. The allegations against that district are supported by evidence of the same type and quality as the allegations against the other school districts. Specifically, the complaint against Meridian alleges that the district does not comply with any prong of the three-part test: First, its participation data reflects a 6.3 percentage point disparity between the percentage of athletic opportunities for girls and percentage of girls in the student body, a disparity that translates to 42 athletic opportunities. Also related to prong one, the complaint alleges that Meridian's participation numbers are "padded" because they include cheerleading and dance numbers, despite the fact that cheer and dance teams in Idaho do not have the same kind of competitive schedule as other varsity athletics and therefore should not be counted according to OCR's published standard for determining what counts as a sport for Title IX purposes.

Second, the complaint cites the trend of increasing or continued participation gap as evidence of the absence of "history and continuing practice" of expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. And regarding the third prong, the complaint cites the fact that there are girls' sports sanction by the state high school athletic association that are not offered at Meridian--specifically, bowling, golf, gymnastics, water polo, crew, and lacrosse -- as evidence of "unmet interest" among the underrepresented sex.

As I said, the claims against Meridian are not substantially different from those against the other Idaho districts, or, for that matter, those against the Washington or Oregon schools that were named in mass complaints that OCR declined to pursue. To me, this suggests that OCR does not really have a problem with the type of evidence used to support the allegations of Title IX violations, it just doesn't like dealing with a massive, 78 district complaint all at once. And while maybe the agency has reasonable basis for not wishing to devote scare agency resources to 78 simultaneous investigations, I wish the agency would communicate better that that's what's going on. When the press reports that 77 school district were "cleared" of any Title IX violations when (if) the complaints were not dismissed for reasons related to the merits of the complaints, it sends the false message that things are fine when they are not necessary so.