Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Either OCR has been engaged in vigorous enforcement and negotiation over the past few months or it has been doing a better job of working the media to get the news out. In recent weeks and months, I posted on OCR settlement agreements eliminating single sex education, expanding athletic opportunities for females, and ensuring racially equal access to AP classes. All of these settlements were important in their own right and should provide good precedent in subsequent complaints.
Now, last week OCR announced another settlement in regard to equal access to athletics with the District of Columbia Public Schools. This agreement, however, is not quite as remarkable as the others. This agreement does not require DCPS to expand opportunities for females. Rather, it requires the district to closely monitor student interest, participation and disparities. In the short term, it must administer a student interest survey and, if it finds that females are under-served, it must take action to increase opportunities or demonstrate that they already receive proportional opportunities. In other words, as Neena Chaudry of the National Women's Law Center says, it is a "good first step," but she cautions that there are also inequalities in coaching and athletic facilities that the neither the settlement agreement nor the district addressed.
As a matter of procedure, OCR seems to have done a good job of boxing the district in by agreeing in advance to act upon the survey results. On the other hand, I am sure advocates remain anxious regarding whether the district will follow through in good faith. The available data seems to already show significant disparities, which begs the question of why the district is taking steps to delay action, rather than agreeing to do so now. One possibility is that the survey mechanism allows the district to save face by not admitting past error. It also gives the district the opportunity to appear that it is immediately acting once it discovers inequities in the survey.