Friday, March 7, 2014

Equalizing Sports in Indianapolis: A Model of Analysis

The Office for Civil Rights has completed its compliance review of Indianapolis Public Schools and found a violation of Title IX in regard to its athletics program.  OCR's resolution letter to the District is a model in terms of applying the three prong standard.  A district is in compliance if it can show a) proportional participation in sports, b) a continuing history of program expansion, or c) that current offerings meet student interest and ability.  The letter sets out and applies each very clearly and could easily be used to teach the subject matter in class.

On the first prong, OCR found that one of the district's high schools was in compliance, but the rest were not.  Girls are 50.5% of the overall student population, but only 35.5% of the student athletes. To the district's defense, it is rare that an institution meets the first prong, and that one of the district's high schools did is noteworthy.

On the second prong, the district's athletic programs had been stagnant for some time and, thus, there was no history of efforts to expand offerings in ways that might have improved the disparity. 

On the third prong, "OCR considers whether there is (a) unmet interest in a particular sport; (b) sufficient ability to sustain a team in the sport; and (c) a reasonable expectation of competition for the team in the school’s normal competitive region. If all three conditions are present, then OCR will find that the school has not fully and effectively accommodated the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex."  The district, however, had made no attempt to assess student interest and, thus, could not avail itself of this prong either.  In short, the second and third prongs provide schools with a "safe harbor" for disparities, but they have to do something to take advantage of this safe harbor.  Indianapolis had done nothing.

Beyond the raw number of opportunities offered, OCR also found evidence of qualitative inequalities, with the district affording different resources and support to those female programs that were available.  In particular, it found inequalities in equipment and supplies and the scheduling of games and practices.

As a result, the district entered into a resolution agreement with OCR that provides:

  • the District will provide participation opportunities for girls and boys . . . that effectively accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of both sexes. . . . In particular, the District will conduct a comprehensive assessment during the 2013-2014 school year to determine whether female students (who are the underrepresented sex in the District’s athletics program) have unmet athletic interests and abilities. . . . If through the assessment, the District identifies a sport or sports in which there is sufficient but unmet interest and (if applicable) ability of female students to participate at the interscholastic level at a particular high school, the District will add athletics opportunities (including new sports or new levels of existing sports by the next competitive season) at the high school(s) until such time as either (1) the high school is fully and effectively accommodating the expressed interests and abilities of female students (i.e., there remains no unmet interest and ability); or (2) the participation rate for female students in the high school’s interscholastic athletics program is substantially proportionate to their rate of enrollment at the high school. . . .
  • In addition, during the 2013-2014 school year, the District will develop a plan to ensure that it provides equal athletic opportunities . . . for members of both sexes in the provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities . . .
  • Finally, the District will create during the 2013-2014 school year a comprehensive policy, subject to OCR’s review and approval prior to implementation, to regulate booster club funding and any other private donations flowing into the athletic programs at each high school to ensure that if booster clubs or other outside sources provide funding that results in disparities in benefits and services favoring athletes of one sex over the other sex, then the District will take action at the high school to ensure that the benefits and services are equivalent for both sexes.

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