States Step Up To Push for Equity in Absence of Federal Enforcement

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Although 25 years have passed since Title IX was signed into law, advocates for girls' sports say that thousands of elementary and secondary schools have managed to ignore it.

Schools get away with providing fewer chances for girls to play sports than boys have, and with having second-rate coaches, equipment, and practice facilities for the sports they do provide, these advocates say. They contend that the situation results from a lack of enforcement by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights, the chief agency in charge of overseeing Title IX, the 1972 law that forbids sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal money.

The ocr has no routine policy for checking if schools comply with the law. When students and parents file individual complaints with the agency, an agency officer will visit the district to try to resolve the issue.

Agency officials say that once they get involved in negotiating Title IX complaints, schools are quick to comply. OCR can withhold federal funds from schools that are not in compliance with Title IX, but never has. The agency's Title IX enforcement officers don't spot-check schools for compliance--an impossible task given the 85,000 public schools in the United States.

"OCR has never been an effective enforcement mechanism," said Mary Jo Kane, the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

State Policies

Because of what they perceive as the shortcomings of the OCR, many states have started to implement their own Title IX policies.

Some 20 states have passed--or are considering adopting--laws that mandate equity in elementary and secondary school athletics.

In Florida, for example, the legislature in 1984 passed the Florida Educational Equity Act, which established penalties for any public school not in compliance with Title IX. Lawmakers set a deadline of June 30 of this year for schools to revamp their sports programs or risk suspension from athletic competition and the possible loss of state aid.

Since 1994, each public school in the state has been required to complete and submit to the state an extensive annual self-evaluation detailing its athletic program.

Nancy Benda, a program director with the state education department, said that the requirements have brought hundreds of schools into voluntary compliance.

"It's opened a lot of eyes," she said. Nonetheless, more than 100 schools will be cited at the end of this month.

Several state athletic associations have also been active in advocating compliance.

After Title IX complaints about a lack of winter sports for female athletes in Minnesota surfaced in 1991, officials of the Minnesota State High School League learned that few school officials knew specifically what the law required of their sports programs. So, working with the state education department, the league devised the "Gender Equity in Athletics Manual," which public schools use to review their policies.

The guidebook has been passed on to other states as a model of how schools can evaluate their compliance, said David V. Stead, the executive director of the league.

"I've never met a school person opposed to providing more opportunity to girls," Mr. Stead said. "The problem was that so few of them understood how to institute Title IX."

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