The U.S. Department of Education announced today that its Office for Civil Rights has reached agreement with the Portland, Maine, Public Schools to ensure equal athletic opportunities for female students. OCR’s proactive compliance review examined whether the school district discriminated against girls under Title IX in its high school interscholastic athletics program.
OCR concluded that the district was not providing girls an equal opportunity to participate in its interscholastic athletics program and in several other components of its sports activities, including the opportunity to receive coaching and the provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive fields, that are equivalent to those provided to boys. Each of these practices is prohibited by Title IX.
From the inception of the review, the district’s administration has worked collaboratively with OCR.
“I appreciate the Portland Public Schools’ efforts to work cooperatively and proactively with us to address the inequities our investigation uncovered that disadvantage girls,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “This agreement demonstrates the district’s strong commitment to its students, including now through promoting the many benefits inherent in participating in sports. Lessons learned in sports -- teamwork, discipline and commitment -- increase a student’s chances for success far beyond the playing field.”
Title IX requires schools to effectively accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of boys and girls but offers schools more than one means of demonstrating compliance.
OCR's investigation revealed a disparity of close to four percentage points between the enrollment of girls in high school and their participation in the district's athletics programs. Had the district provided equal participation, girls would have been offered approximately 120 additional athletic participation opportunities.
Because girls were underrepresented in the district’s athletics program, the district has chosen to come into compliance by adding additional athletic opportunities for girls and by creating a more robust means of assessing the interests and abilities of its student body.
Specifically, under the terms of the agreement, the district will:
- Add girls’ volleyball to its interscholastic athletics program beginning in the 2014-15 school year based on its assessment of student interest and ability in girls’ volleyball; the district will promote and recruit for the volleyball teams and provide resources and facilities, including locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities, to the new volleyball teams.
- Continue to assess student interest and ability and add teams and additional athletic opportunities for girls so that by no later than the 2015-16 school year, the district’s interscholastic athletics program will either fully accommodate the interest of girls in athletics or the number of girls participating in athletics will be in proportion to their enrollment.
- Ensure that booster club and other private funding are considered as part of the district’s responsibility to provide equivalent athletics benefits and services to both sexes.
- Ensure that locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities for girls’ teams are equivalent to those provided to boys’ teams. And,
- Maintain girls’ athletic facilities to ensure they are equitable as compared to the boys’ facilities.
The office’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about the office is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html.