By Terry L. Fromson, WLP Managing Attorney
On June 19, 2013, the Northwestern Lehigh School District Board of Directors adopted a resolution that would keep basic information from parents and students about the sports programs their tax dollars support.
The resolution also revealed shocking ignorance about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, including in school athletic programs. Resolving to support the repeal of a law adopted last year by the Pennsylvania Legislature that requires public high schools, junior highs, and middle schools to fill out a reporting form once a year showing how schools are doing in achieving gender equity in their athletic programs, the Board resolution incredulously states that “the provisions of Title IX, which is federal law, are not applicable to local school districts.”
To the contrary, Title IX applies to any educational program that receives any federal financial assistance. There are few, if any, schools that don’t receive any federal funding. Title IX requires our schools to provide equal athletic opportunities and treatment to girls. Adopted 41 years ago this month, Title IX required schools to become compliant within three years. Yet, many schools have not only failed to achieve equality in their sports programs, but overall, conditions have actually worsened for girls.
Last year’s passage of the reporting law was a victory for girls who want to participate in school athletics in Pennsylvania and for their parents who expect equal opportunity for their daughters in school. It simply provides the taxpaying public with knowledge about whether their local schools are in compliance with or in violation of Title IX. The law is not burdensome. The information it asks schools to share is in their possession and is already reportable on a request by request basis under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law. Compiling one report each year, a task estimated to take no more than six hours, will consume less time and effort than responding to multiple requests throughout the year. This small investment of time is more than reasonable to ensure female athletes in Pennsylvania’s schools are provided with the athletic opportunities required by law.
At this same meeting, the Northwestern Lehigh School Board voted to “move forward” with plans to seek private funding for improvements to the athletic stadium and track field at a projected cost of $2.1 million. Without more information, it cannot definitively be said whether these improvements will result in or contribute to an uneven playing field for girls in the Northwestern Lehigh School District. However, the Board should know that female student athletes must be treated equally even if private funding is used to purchase extra perks for male student athletes.
Please also see recent commentary by Paul Carpenter of The Morning Call: Title IX spotlights scholastic sports — for all students or just the Al Bundy types?