The Chicago school system must add athletic opportunities for females in at least 12 high schools during the 2015-16 school year to comply with a Title IX settlement with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights announced Thursday.
The National Women’s Law Center filed the initial complaint back in 2010 against the Chicago school district and 11 others across the nation, alleging each was shortchanging girls in terms of available athletic opportunities. In particular, each district, including Chicago’s, had high schools with “double-digits gaps between the percentage of students who are girls and the percentage of athletes who are girls,” according to the districts’ data at the time.
To prove compliance with Title IX, the federal legislation that prevents gender discrimination in any federally financed education program or activity, schools can demonstrate that their overall student population is proportional to their male and female athletic opportunities. If a school is comprised of 48 percent females, in theory, 48 percent of a school’s athletic opportunities should be for females. While there’s no specific threshold for the proportionality component of Title IX’s three-prong test, double-digit participation gaps, such as the one reportedly present in Chicago at the time of the complaint, would seem to suggest non-compliance with the law.
During the 2013-14 school year, roughly 49 percent of high school students in the Chicago school system were males and 51 percent were females, according to the OCR investigation. However, boys comprised 58.69 percent of the district’s athletes, while girls represented the other 41.31 percent. To satisfy the proportionality prong, one high school in particular, Lane Technical High School, would have needed to add 477 participation opportunities for female athletes. Eighty-four of the district’s 92 high schools that currently offer sports had females underrepresented in their athletics programs, 25 of which would have needed to add at least 100 athletic opportunities for females to satisfy the proportionality prong.
Falling Short Beyond Proportionality
Proportionality isn’t the only way to prove compliance with Title IX, but Chicago public schools failed each of the two remaining prongs, too. The district provided no documentation of expanding athletic opportunities for females (the underrepresented sex), and while it did attempt to survey students regarding their interest in additional athletic opportunities, a grand majority of females did not participate. Accordingly, OCR informed the district “that the rates of response by girls to this survey did not indicate that the survey maximized the possibility of obtaining accurate information and facilitating responses” from its female high school students.
Thus, the district entered an agreement with OCR on July 1 that requires it to demonstrate compliance with at least one portion of the three-prong test at 12 or more high schools by August 1 of this year. At least 12 high schools that already offer sports must “add additional levels of competition or squads” for the 2015-16 school year, “and new levels or squads of currently existing sports will continue to be added at all high schools annually” until the district demonstrates compliance with Title IX via the three-prong test, no later than the 2018-19 school year. High schools that don’t currently offer sports, meanwhile, must survey female students to gauge whether there is enough interest to create one or more sports teams.
Under the agreement, high schools that don’t comply with the proportionality prong by September 30 must “conduct a comprehensive assessment of the athletic interests” of their students “to determine whether female students have unmet athletics interests and abilities.” Based on those assessments, the schools must “offer additional athletic opportunities to girls by creating new sports teams, adding levels to existing teams, or increasing the squad size of existing teams.”
In addition, the district had to appoint a Title IX sports compliance coordinator, create a new district Web page with information about Title IX and female athletic participation opportunities, and create a database to document participation of students in its high school sports programs, which will allow OCR to monitor whether each school is satisfying the proportionality prong.
“With this resolution agreement, the district has committed to provide, on a school by school basis, an equal opportunity for high school girls to participate in interscholastic athletics at all 98 high schools,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon in a statement. “I am delighted that the new accountability measures put in place by the district... will help ensure equal athletic opportunity for another 6,200 Chicago girls and equal opportunity in school for all Chicago students.”
According to OCR’s letter, the district attempted to have its co-ed competitive cheer and dance programs counted for the purposes of Title IX compliance, but OCR refused that request. A 2008 Dear Colleague letter from OCR specifically spelled out which activities would and would not be counted, noting it would assess “whether the primary purpose of the activity is to provide athletic competition at the intercollegiate or interscholastic varsity levels rather than to support or promote other athletic activities.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.