Wednesday, July 11, 2012

OCR Settles Four of Twelve NWLC Complaints

The Office for Civil Rights announced last week that it has settled four of the twelve complaints filed by the National Women's Law Center in 2010 against school districts across the country to challenge gender disparities in athletic opportunities (see additional coverage of the settlements here and here). The four districts to settle include Wake County public school system in North Carolina, the Houston Independent School District, Columbus City Schools in Ohio, and the Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix.  The remaining eight districts remain under investigation. 

With respect to the four districts to settle, OCR's investigation of each of these districts revealed that the none satisfied prong one of the three-part test for compliance, as a large gap between female enrollment and athletic opportunities for girls existed in all four districts.  Nor did any of these districts add opportunities for girls recently enough or with sufficient regularity to qualify for compliance under the second prong.  OCR's settlement agreements with the districts gives them the opportunity to prove compliance with the third prong by assessing and responding to athletic interest among female students.  They must also create procedures to create mechanisms for considering requests for new athletic opportunities by parents, coaches, and students. 

It's great that these four districts are now highly motivated to take prong three seriously.  But I'm a little worried about the message this story sends to school districts.  It took OCR 21 months to settle on terms that require schools districts to assess and respond to the interests of the underrepresented sex, i.e., what they should have been doing anyway.   This system of enforcement doesn't exactly provide strong motivation to proactively comply.