U.S. Education Department Reaches Agreements with Four School Districts to Increase Athletic Opportunities for Girls

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U.S. Education Department Reaches Agreements with Four School Districts to Increase Athletic Opportunities for Girls

July 2, 2012

The U.S. Department of Education today announced that its Office for Civil Rights has reached agreement with four school districts to ensure that equal athletic opportunities are provided for thousands of girls. The four districts include the Wake County Public School System in Raleigh, N.C., the Houston Independent School District, in Houston, Texas, the Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio, and the Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix, Ariz.

These four agreements are the first resolutions of the 12 complaints filed by the National Women’s Law Center. The complaints alleged that the districts discriminated against female students by failing to effectively accommodate their athletic interests and abilities, as required by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its implementing regulation, 34 C.F.R. Part 106. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The four districts worked closely with OCR, and voluntarily and proactively entered into resolution agreements prior to the completion of the investigations. As such, OCR made no findings of lack of compliance.

“Even as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, we must still remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure equal opportunity for girls in education,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights. “The agreements reached in these four cases are representative of the important Title IX work that OCR continues to do, and should provide assurance to the thousands of girls in these school districts and across the nation that fundamental fairness on the playing field and in all areas of education is within their reach. OCR will continue to vigorously work to ensure equal opportunity.”

According to data provided by the districts, the total student enrollment was 40,524 in Wake County’s 20 high schools, 41,046 students in Houston’s 33 high schools, 15,069 in Columbus’ 24 high schools, and 10,887 in Deer Valley’s five high schools.

Information obtained during OCR’s investigations revealed large disparities between the district-wide enrollment of female students and their participation in interscholastic athletics and that the districts had not conducted recent district-wide assessments of student athletic interest.

Thousands of additional athletic participation opportunities would be available if the school districts provided athletic opportunities to female students consistent with their representation in the district population -- specifically, 3,085 additional participation opportunities could be provided in Wake County, 1,152 in Houston, 1,116 in Columbus and 1,080 in Deer Valley.

Title IX requires schools to effectively accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of its male and female students but offers schools more than one means of demonstrating compliance. Since the athletic participation rates at Wake County, Houston, Columbus and Deer Valley are not proportional to student enrollment, the districts have each chosen to come into compliance by demonstrating to OCR that their district interscholastic athletics programs fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of female high school students.

Under the terms of the agreements obtained by OCR, each of the four districts commits to ensuring that it will provide an equal opportunity for female students to participate in the athletics programs at its high schools. Each district will conduct an assessment to determine whether there are unmet interests and abilities among female students.

Based on the results of the assessments, if there are unmet interests and abilities, the districts will take steps to increase athletic opportunities for female students. These steps may include new sports teams for girls, additional levels for existing teams or increased squad size for existing teams. The actions are to be taken by the next competitive season for the particular sport.

The districts will also develop, implement and publicize a procedure for students or other interested parties, such as coaches or parents, to use in requesting the addition of new sports or levels of sports at the high schools. The districts will provide annual notice to students, coaches, and other district staff of all of the sports offered at each high school. The agreements make clear that OCR does not require or encourage the elimination of any district team and that it is seeking action from the district that does not involve the elimination of athletic opportunities for either sex.

OCR will closely monitor the districts’ implementation of the agreements and will not close the monitoring of them until OCR determines that the districts have fulfilled the terms of the agreements and are in compliance with the provisions of Title IX that were at issue in these complaints.

OCR is continuing its investigation of the remaining eight complaints filed by the National Women’s Law Center. Those complaints were filed against the New York City Department of Education, the Chicago Public School District #299; the Worcester, Mass., Public Schools; the Henry County, Ga., School District; the Clark County, Nev., School District; the Oldham County, Ky., Schools; the Irvine, Calif., Unified School District; and the Sioux Falls, S.D., School District #49-5.

The enforcement of Title IX is a top priority of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Additional information about OCR is available at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html