(Washington, D.C.) The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) are failing to give high school girls equal athletic opportunities under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs, according to an administrative complaint by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and attorneys from Crowell & Moring and Lowenstein Sandler LLP. The Center’s review of DCPS data, obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests, coupled with extensive interviews with parents of high school girls, reveal a widespread, systemic failure affecting every District high school, including a lack of teams, less qualified coaches, and lack of adequate facilities for girls.
The District’s own data show disparities of over 10 percentage points and as high as 26 percentage points between girls’ enrollment and the share of athletic participation opportunities provided to them in the majority of the district’s 15 public high schools. These gaps mean that DCPS would need to provide almost 700 additional athletic opportunities to girls to provide parity. The Center’s complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), requests that OCR investigate all District public high schools and require them to treat girls fairly.
“The District is not fulfilling its obligation to give girls in the nation’s capital an equal chance to reap the benefits of playing sports that extend far beyond the playing field,” said NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger. “For girls, like boys, the benefits are enormous. As studies show, girls who participate in sports attain higher academic achievement, experience lower teenage pregnancy rates and have overall better health. Forty-one years after passage of Title IX, it’s past time to give girls who have waited far too long the athletic opportunities they deserve and that the law requires.”
Terry Lynch, a DCPS parent for 16 consecutive years and a father of two girls who participated in District sports, worries about the lack of athletic opportunities for girls: “Simply put, girls in D.C. are 2nd class citizens. I have seen year in and year out the boys’ teams unfailingly get the resources needed to compete—better coaches, facilities, equipment, and sporting options. A few years ago a couple of parents and I pitched in and brought on a semi-pro soccer coach to help the girls in the final month of their flagging season. The girls responded quickly to the coach and ended up upsetting a stronger team and going on to the finals. So guess what happened? The school suddenly hired this coach for the boys’ team! Listen, I want the boys to have great athletic opportunities, too, but not at the expense of the girls. They both deserve all the benefits that come from playing sports.”
For almost eight years, Keenan Keller, a father of two athletic daughters, has been trying to raise visibility about the poor state of girls’ athletics in District schools. “My older daughter is a serious basketball and soccer player and will be turning 16 soon. Two years ago, despite having close friendships at her school, she decided to transfer to a private school so she’d be exposed to stronger coaching, more rigor and competition. She wants to play serious sports and that just wasn’t possible in the DCPS system. My family is fortunate to be able to send my daughter to private school. But I worry about the hundreds of girls who are stuck in a broken system that fails them. What about them? What options do they have?”
In addition to the participation gaps, the Center’s complaint includes the following topline findings:
- During the 2010-2011 school year, DCPS’ own surveys showed an overwhelming interest by girls in playing a variety of established varsity sports such as swimming, which is not offered at all, and soccer and tennis, which are offered at only some schools.
- Despite thriving club and recreational leagues, only five high schools in the District have regularly fielded soccer teams and there is only one viable girls’ varsity lacrosse team, at Wilson High School. Wilson has been forced to fill its competition schedule by competing against teams from private schools in the District or public schools from other districts in the metro D.C. area. Lacrosse, as one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, has increased scholarship opportunities at the college level.
- Girls’ teams have been disbanded due to the District’s lack of attention to coaching for girls’ sports. In 2010, Roosevelt High School canceled its girls’ basketball season after the head coach of eight years resigned and the new coach, who did not work at Roosevelt, did not have time to recruit players. Roosevelt also has not had a girls’ soccer team for years, despite winning the championship in 2002.
- Female athletes often practice and play on fields that lack adequate lighting for night games, are poorly maintained, lack necessary provisions, and are not accessible by Metro. By comparison, male athletes practice and play on fields that are lit at night, are well maintained, contain artificial turf, are centrally located and easily accessible by Metro.
- The District does not treat female athletes equally in the provision of equipment, supplies, and uniforms. While male athletes receive high-quality uniforms, warm-up jackets, and sweat pants, female athletes often have to play in inferior uniforms handed down from prior years. For example, female soccer athletes at School Without Walls have been forced to compete in uniforms with numbers that are affixed with duct tape. The girls’ softball team at Wilson High School does not have a pitching machine or other training gear that the boys’ varsity and junior varsity baseball teams have.
“Athletics is more than an extracurricular activity; it is an opportunity to be part of something bigger and to learn leadership and other life skills,” said Neena Chaudhry, NWLC Senior Counsel and Director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics. “Generations of girls in DC have lost the chance to reap the tremendous benefits associated with playing sports. Time is of the essence: the District needs to do right by its female students and level the playing field.”
For more information on Title IX, please see the following NWLC resources:
Battle for gender equity in elementary and secondary schools