The Portland, Maine, school district reached an agreement last week with the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights to begin providing equal athletic opportunities for female students.
The OCR investigated the district’s compliance with Title IX, the federal legislation that prohibits gender-based discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity, and determined that girls were not receiving equal opportunities to participate in athletics.
Districts can prove their compliance with Title IX in one of three ways:
- Ensure that the percentage of boys and girls participating in athletics is proportionate to the overall percentage of male and female students;
- Demonstrate a commitment to expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex; or
- Prove that the athletic interests of the underrepresented sex are being accommodated.
During its investigation, the OCR determined that there was a disparity of roughly 4 percentage points between the overall number of female students and number of female athletes during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. The district needed to add more than 110 athletic participation opportunities for females to ensure compliance with the first prong of the three-part test.
The district also didn’t have a history of continuously expanding athletic opportunities for female athletes, nor had it conducted a survey among students within the past four years to gauge their interests in particularly athletic programs. Furthermore, the civil rightsoffice concluded that the district had failed to provide its female athletes with equal access to particular coaching opportunities, locker rooms, and athletics facilities.
Therefore, the OCR concluded, the district had violated all three prongs of the three-part test and was thus in violation of Title IX.
To satisfy compliance with Title IX, the Portland district agreed to add a girls’ volleyball team beginning in the 2014-15 school year, based on female students’ unmet interest in the sport. The district must also begin surveying students of both genders to gauge their athletic interests so that by no later than the 2015-16 school year, high school girls’ expressed interests in athletics will be fully satisfied or the number of female athletes will be in proportion to the total number of females in the student body.
“I appreciate the Portland Public Schools’ efforts to work cooperatively and proactively with us to address the inequities our investigation uncovered that disadvantage girls,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights, in a statement. “This agreement demonstrates the district’s strong commitment to its students, including now through promoting the many benefits inherent in participating in sports.”
By June 30 each year, the district must provide the OCR with lists of all teams’ rosters, along with information about the percentage of male and female athletes compared to total male and female enrollment.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.