Last night, at the Education Committee meeting of the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Board of Directors, Title IX consultant and auditor Peg Pennepacker presented her findings following an audit of the district’s high school athletics programs. The audit looked at gender equity in the sports programs and assessed compliance with Title IX, the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in most educational institutions.
The audit revealed that the school district is not providing equitable athletic opportunities to girls at any high school in the district, and that there are serious problems with scheduling, uniforms, equipment, coaching, and athletic training district-wide.
Ms. Pennepacker noted that not a single high school provides athletic opportunities to girls proportionate to their enrollment, which is one of the ways a school can comply with Title IX. According to this interpretation, if a school’s enrollment is 50% male and 50% female, then half of the athletes should be boys and half should be girls.
Disparity rates at district high schools ranged from 7% to a shocking 24%. At the school with the disparity rate of 24%, that means that there are 140 missing athletic opportunities for girls at that school. To bring all schools up to proportionality, the district would need to add 784 athletic opportunities for girls at the nine high schools with sports programs.
There has not been a strong expansion of girls’ sports in the district over the past several academic years. Two girls’ varsity sports were added during the 2007-08 school year, the last expansion of the sports program for female students.
Ms. Pennepacker noted serious problems with girls’ sports in the district. Most schools do not have an inventory of uniforms or a rotation schedule for uniforms. Additionally, many schools lack equipment that is suitable for girls and the sports they play. Girls’ sports need more experienced, quality coaches, and when the student to coach ratio exceeds 10:1, the team needs another coach. The district also needs to exercise more control over publicity and ensure that school-sponsored publications cover girls’ and boys’ sports equitably. Scheduling of girls’ sports should be brought up to par with boys’ sports – for example, if a boys’ basketball team at one school plays 22 games in a season, the girls’ basketball team should also be playing 22 games. Access to athletic trainers is also an issue – Ms. Pennepacker noted that currently one trainer is responsible for the teams at three high schools. This could actually be a dangerous situation for the student-athletes. The district also needs to improve policies regarding scheduling for teams that are in season and ensuring that all teams have access to weight rooms. As for facilities, most of them need improvement, but she encouraged the district to make maximum use of Cupples Stadium, using it for as many sports as possible and at the very least, for soccer, lacrosse and football games.
The auditor noted that the district needed a policy to oversee booster club money. The district says that they have one, and Ms. Pennepacker encouraged the district to ensure that schools are aware that they are responsible for correcting any disparity that arises from booster club donations.
Overall, school athletic directors would benefit from training and certification about what their responsibilities are. The auditor noted that the general feeling towards athletics throughout the district is that they are a necessary routine rather than a program with meaning and purpose. She emphasized that athletics are an extension of the classroom and can actually encourage young men and women to take their academics more seriously. She also noted the benefits of participating in sports for girls, including a lower teen pregnancy rate, lowered risk of eating disorders and drug use, and increased physical fitness.
Derrick Lopez, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, responded to Ms. Pennepacker’s presentation and said that he met with all coaches in the district on March 22, 2010. The school district has a three-step action plan in response to the audit. They plan to take immediate action on the timing of practices and games and on the scheduling of facilities. The second step is to conduct a review of internal practices and procedures to address disparities. As for the third action, they plan to establish an Athletic Program Task Force, which “will study athletics within the district and examine ways to address more systemic issues, i.e., participation in athletics by young women within the district.” The task force will be comprised of school district personnel, administrators, coaches, parents, students, and community members.
In light of the fact that this audit was commissioned to examine gender equity in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, we hope that the task force will be comprised of equal numbers of men and women who are committed to increasing girls’ athletic opportunities in the district. We commend the Pittsburgh Public Schools for undertaking the audit and planning to take steps to correct the inequities that were found in this report. Girls deserve the same opportunities that are available to their male peers, and we look forward to continuing to advocate for gender equity in athletics in western Pennsylvania and beyond.
Every day that goes by is another day that Pittsburgh’s young women are deprived of the equality that is theirs according to federal law.