The National Women's Law Center filed a federal discrimination complaint against Wake County Schools and 11 other school systems throughout the United States on Wednesday, accusing the systems of failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities as boys to play interscholastic sports.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization said the school districts are in violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. The group says that the districts have high schools with double-digit gaps between the percentage of students who are girls and the percentage of athletes who are girls.
The NWLC filed a complaint against one system in each of the OCR's 12 regions. The other school districts named in the complaints are Chicago; Clark County, Nev.; Columbus, Ohio; Deer Valley, Ariz.; Henry County, Ga.; Houston; Irvine, Calif.; New York City; Oldham County, Ky.; Sioux Falls, S.D. and Worcester, Mass.
The filings requests that the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigate every high school in each district named, take all necessary steps to remedy any unlawful conduct identified in its investigation and obtain assurances that the school districts are complying with Title IX.
Bobby Guthrie, the Wake County athletic director, said the filing came as a surprise to Wake officials, adding that no one from the National Women's Law Center had contacted him. He praised the school system's commitment to girls' sports, citing the 24 N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A state championships won by Wake schools' girls teams the last five years.
"We have an exceptional record in girls athletics," Guthrie said. "As a system we have done everything we can to provide equal opportunities for girls. I think we are doing that.
"I have not heard any complaints that we are not providing the proper opportunities for our girls. There haven't been any requests to add more girls sports."
Davis Whitfield, the commissioner of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, said he had heard no complaints against equal opportunity involving the Wake system.
"We have heard of some systems where there was a problem in equal facilities and the schools are working on rectifying that," Whitfield said. "But I have not heard of any complaints involving the opportunity for girls and I think I would have."
The complaints were filed as part of the NWLC's "Rally for Girls' Sports: She'll Win More than a Game" campaign. The purpose of the campaign, according to the NWLC web site, is "to educate schools, the public and especially parents about the widespread inequality that their daughters face in school sports programs and to mobilize parents to press for change."
Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 says, "No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid."
The 1979 policy interpretation measures compliance in three areas:
Are female and male opportunities substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments?
If one sex has been underrepresented, can the institution show a history and continuing practice of program expansion?
Can the institution demonstrate that the interests and abilities of the members of that sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program?
The National Women's Law Center used Wake County data from 2004 to 2006, the most recent figures available, for its complaint.
The complaint says the average participation gap (the difference between the percentage of girls enrolled and the percentage of female athletes) was 11.8 percent in the Wake County system in 2006.
One example cited was Wake Forest-Rolesville High, where 52.3 percent of the student population was female and 33.6 percent of the athletes were female in 2006.
"By not providing equal opportunities for its female high school students, the Wake County Public School System is depriving many girls of the significant benefits associated with playing sports," according to the complaint.
Deran Coe, who has been the athletic director at Wake Forest-Rolesville since July, said he could not comment on the percentages in past years. However, he said the school now offers 12 sports for females - not counting cheerleading - and 10 sports for males.
Guthrie said the Wake school system was paying a coach this year in each boys and girls sport sanctioned by the NCHSAA. He said he anticipates a team being fielded at every school in each sport except for boys and girls' lacrosse.
In addition, all but two of the schools in the system field gymnastics teams, whose coaches are paid a supplement by the Wake system. The NCHSAA does not recognize gymnastics as a sport.
Every Wake school offers an equal number of sports for girls and boys' teams. In several schools' cases, there are more team sports for girls than boys, even when cheerleading is not considered to be a sport. (Wake County treats cheerleading as a sport, paying coaches from the system's coaching supplement scale, providing equipment and regulating schedules and competition.)
"I am completely and totally in favor of giving girls the opportunity to be involved in athletics," Guthrie said.
The NCHSAA sanctioned lacrosse for the first time in the spring of 2010.
Guthrie said Title IX regulations are a regular topic for discussion during the system's meetings of athletics directors. The athletic directors are reminded to be aware of keeping school awards similar for comparable boys and girls sports teams and to keep comparable facilities and practice times.
All coaches are paid from the same supplement scale, and comparable coaches are paid at the same level.
Wake's percentage of female athletes is higher than the national average. According to the National Federation of State High School Association, 58 percent of the nation's high school athletes are male (4.45 million of 7.62 million) .
The NCHSAA male participants make up 53 percent (118,641 of 208,780) of its athletes.
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