Still discriminating after all these years

By Rachel Cohen, AP Sports Writer
Updated: November 10, 2010

NEW YORK — The National Women’s Law Center has filed complaints against 12 school districts Wednesday alleging they failed to offer equal opportunities for female athletes.

The center said data from 2006 indicated the districts violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in federally funded education programs.

The school districts are Chicago; Clark County, Nev.; Columbus, Ohio; Deer Valley, Ariz.; Henry County, Ga.; Houston; Irvine, Calif.; New York City; Oldham County, Ky.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Wake County, N.C.; and Worcester, Mass.

The schools can satisfy Title IX in one of three ways: if the percentage of athletes who are girls is about the same as the student body; if the school has continually expanded athletic opportunities for girls; or if the school meets its female students’ interest in participating in sports.

Many of the school districts said they were still reviewing the complaints.

Several noted that participation numbers didn’t necessarily mean that girls lacked the opportunity to play a sport if they chose.

“There are equal opportunities for girls to participate in our school district and it is something that is really important to us,” said Irvine’s Cassie Parham, assistant superintendent for education services and a former athlete. “The opportunity to be an athlete certainly exists.”

In the 12 districts, the percentage of girls playing sports was lower than that of the student body. The gaps ranged from 8 percentage points in New York to 33 in Chicago.

The center found the gap increased in most of the districts from 2004 to ’06, indicating that opportunities had not been expanding. It also said the districts didn’t field teams in all girls sports sanctioned by their state, suggesting that interest was not being met.

“On the face of it, it looks pretty difficult to say, ‘Our students are unique. They’re not really interested in playing the sports that other students are playing all around the state,”‘ NWLC Co-President Marcia Greenberger said on a conference call.

Wake County spokesman Michael Evans said the district offered all sports sanctioned by North Carolina’s sports governing body.

“We leave it up to the schools to determine whether they’re going to field a team or not, based on student interest,” he said.

The complaints will be investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The center selected one school in each of the 12 OCR regions based on the 2006 data.

“The numbers are so stark and the gaps are so big, they show they have a lot of explaining to do,” NWLC senior counsel Neena Chaudhry said.

The complaints reflect the most recent data available, which are now four years old. The New York City Department of Education noted in a statement that the Public Schools Athletic League has added double dutch, lacrosse and golf in recent years.

Houston’s Marmion Dambrino, the district’s first female athletic director, said the schools would work closely with the OCR to ensure the district was in compliance.

“It’s extremely important,” Dambrino said. “All of our female athletes need to be provided that opportunity and to my knowledge we’re doing that and doing everything we can to afford those opportunities to our female athletes.”

NOTE: Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C., Samantha Gross in New York, Ramit Masti in Houston and Amy Taxin in Tustin, Calif., contributed to this report.