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Study Charts State Action on Sex Equity

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Twelve states and one U.S. territory have enacted laws since the early 1970's that protect female elementary- and high-school students from sex discrimination in their schools, a new study has found.

The study, released by the National Organization for Women's project on equal educational rights, indicates, however, that state officials have not rushed to fill the gap that was created in 1984 when the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the federal law barring sex bias in education.

In its decision in Grove City College v. Bell, the Court ruled that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applied only to educational "programs and activities'' that receive federal aid directly. Previously, the law was interpreted by many lower courts and federal officials to apply to all activities at schools and colleges that receive federal funds.

Theresa Cusick, a program associate with PEER, said that state laws mirroring Title IX have grown in significance since the Grove City ruling. For example, she noted that it has become difficult to pursue legal action under Title IX against sex discrimination in school athletic programs, because they rarely receive direct federal funding.

"I feel there's a real yearning out there for state Title IX laws because of the Grove City decision,'' Ms. Cusick said.

The Congress has considered legislation to nullify the Court's ruling in the case, but it has been sidetracked by a dispute over abortion services in federally funded hospitals. (See Education Week, March 25, 1987.)

Study's Findings

The 57-page report, "Beyond Title IX: PEER's State-by-State Guide to Women's Educational Equity Laws,'' assessed state sex-equity laws by using six measures: general provisions, coverage, admissions, treatment of students, employment, and enforcement. To be rated "comprehensive,'' a law had to address at least four of the categories, and had to apply to both precollegiate and postsecondary education.

The study, released in February, found that only seven states--Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Nebraska, Oregon, and Rhode Island--and the U.S. Territory of Guam have comprehensive sex-equity laws.

Five other states--Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Washington, and Wisconsin--have statutes that cover only elementary and secondary education, the study said.

Nineteen other states, it added, have approved laws that could be made comprehensive in their scope with only minor amendments.

Great Diversity

The study found that there is a great deal of diversity among the state laws.

For example, it pointed out that only California, Maine, and Oregon have laws that apply to private institutions. And only the Wisconsin statute, it said, specifically prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The study also found wide diversity among the laws' enforcement provisions.

"There's no one law that you can pick up and say, 'This is the best law,''' Ms. Cusick said. But, she added, "I was surprised that some laws were as good as they are.''

The report notes that seven of the state laws require that textbooks and other curricular materials be free of sexual bias. And unlike the federal law, Ms. Cusick said, "a lot of the states explicitly recognize sexual harassment as sexual discrimination.''

Although some states have passed laws similar to Title IX, Ms. Cusick noted, they cannot replace Title IX as it was interpreted prior to the Grove City ruling.

For a state civil-rights law to be effective, she said, "a lot depends on whether there is a strong commitment in the state legislature and executive branch, and if advocates are committed to it.''

"There are some states that will never pass a law that we would consider to be a good law,'' Ms. Cusick added.

Copies of the report are available for $14.95 each from PEER, 1413 K Street, N.W., ninth floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.

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