Strong Approach

January 29, 2015
From large cities to small towns, advocates for gender equity are challenging high schools on their Title IX compliance. These athletic administrators took a proactive path, implementing a district-wide review.
By Kirby Whitacre and Ellen Taylor

Kirby Whitacre is Director of Athletics for the South Bend (Ind.) Community School Corporation, which includes four public high schools and 10 intermediate centers. He can be contacted at: [email protected]. Ellen Taylor is an Administrative Assistant in the district's athletic office and can be contacted at: [email protected].

There were no formal Title IX complaints. In fact, there were no informal grievances either. Nor had we received any requests to start new girls' teams. Yet, here at the South Bend (Ind.) Community School Corporation, we decided to conduct a Title IX review last year.

Why open up a can of worms when you don't have to? Over the past few years, there has been increased emphasis on examining Title IX at the high school level. Complaints have been filed in Washington D.C., Indianapolis, and Beaverton, Ore., to name a few.

But the main reason we decided to review our adherence to Title IX is because it is the right thing to do. Nationwide, girls don't participate in sports as readily as boys do. As athletic administrators, we need to work towards rectifying this discrepancy.

In addition, because students and parents do not necessarily know how to file a formal complaint, violations of the law often go unchallenged. Most high school athletic departments are not in full compliance with Title IX and there is complacency about it. We wanted to be proactive and better than the status quo.

We've always paid attention to gender equity in our school district, but we felt it was necessary to put our policies and procedures under the microscope. Our goal was to have the athletic departments in our four high schools be consistently focused on Title IX.

We can't say we did not have any concerns about what we might uncover. We understood that our findings could oblige us to start one or more new girls' teams even though we lack the extra funds to do so--we are barely supporting our current sports financially. Nevertheless, we committed ourselves to be compliant no matter what the cost.

There are two categories to review when it comes to Title IX. The first is participation. A three pronged criterion for meeting the requirements of the law is as follows:

1. Whether the number of male and female athletes is essentially or substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.

2. Whether the institution has a history and continuing practice of expanding participation opportunities responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

3. Whether, where members of one sex are underrepresented, it can be demonstrated that the interests and abilities of that sex have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program.

The second area is equity in program components. As defined in the Policy Interpretation Section 106.31(C), these are:

- Athletic financial assistance
- Accommodation of interests and abilities
- Equipment and supplies
- Scheduling of games and practice times
- Travel and per diem allowance
- Tutors
- Coaches--quality and quantity
- Locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities
- Medical and training facilities and services
- Housing and dining facilities and services
- Publicity
- Support services
- Recruitment of student-athletes to colleges.

A few of these do not apply to high school athletics, such as athletic financial assistance and housing and dining. Others need thoughtful discussion as to how they pertain to one's particular high school.

For example, support services can include many things. Maybe a school has a pep band at all boys' home basketball games but only at three of the girls' home basketball games. Perhaps cheerleaders are present at all boys' basketball games, home and away, but not at away girls' basketball games. Or a school may pay a PA announcer for baseball, but requires the softball coach to find a volunteer to do the task. All of these cases would likely be ruled as Title IX violations if there was a formal complaint.

Our first task was to search for templates outlining procedures that we should follow to conduct a Title IX review. We contacted the Chicago branch of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to see what resources it had. It did not have a template, but its staff members were both interested and helpful, providing us with some guidelines and information. This allowed us to develop our own self-assessment guide.

Our guide begins with an explanation of Title IX and our intent in conducting the audit. Following this introduction are directions on how to compile information and two surveys, which each high school then used to review its program. Here is a closer look at each section:

Participation: To assess participation opportunities for girls in our athletics programs--and to determine whether each school was complying with one of the three prongs--we asked our school athletic directors to gather figures. This included the percentage of males vs. females in the school as compared to those involved in athletics.

We broke this statistic down in two ways: the number of unduplicated participants (counting the athlete who participates in multiple sports only once) and the number of duplicated participants (counting the athlete who participates in basketball and track and field, for example, as two).

The OCR suggests that true proportionality is represented by unduplicated participants. But because many athletes in high schools are involved in more than one sport, it is also acceptable to count duplicated participants.

To examine the second prong, we compiled information on when and why sports have been added to our offerings. We also recorded any sports that were in the process of being started. The third prong was tested through an athlete survey (more on that below).

Program Components: In this area, we asked each athletic director to list policies, protocols, and/or criteria for the program components (listed in the bullet points above). Some examples include the following:

- Attach or document replacement schedules for equipment and supplies.
- List policies and procedures for establishing competition schedules.
- List policies and procedures for determining if a per diem allowance will be given to a team.
- List the size of the squad and the names and positions of any additional personnel who travel to the game in an official capacity.
- Describe how the number of coaches each team will have is decided.
- List the athletic trainers and doctors assigned to each team and when they travel to away games.
- Provide samples of printed materials used to publicize sports teams.
- Describe how the school provides access to college recruiters for male athletes and how it does so for female athletes.

We also asked the athletic directors to supply budget information, as well as any other documents they felt might be helpful for the review. And we had a category titled "other" where they could add information not directly asked for, such as comments from parents related to Title IX and any explanations about increases or decreases in participation for a specific reason.

Coaches Survey: This instrument was constructed to allow coaches to express their opinions and concerns regarding Title IX in their athletic department. See "Coaches Survey" on page XX for the full list of questions.

Athlete Survey: It was not easy, but we managed to get every female high school student in our district to complete a survey to gauge if interests were being met. The athletic directors had to find a class or homeroom period where all the girls could complete the assessments, which was tricky. The questions we asked were:

- Do you enjoy participating in sports of any kind?
- If so, what sports do you enjoy?
- Do you now or have you played sports for your school?
- If so, what sports have you played for your school?
- If you do not play a sport for your school, why not?
- Do you now or have you ever played on a boys' sports team at a school?
- If so, what boys' sport(s) do you or did you play?
- Do you play a sport in the community that is not offered by the school?
- If so, what sport do you play in the community?
- Is there a sport or sports not offered at the school that you would like to see offered and if so, what would that be?
- Would you participate if the sport(s) were to be offered in your school?
- In general, do you consider yourself to be good in sports?
- What other comments, suggestions, requests, or ideas would you like to offer regarding your interests, experiences, and abilities in sports?

Respondents to the survey were anonymous, but we did include a place for them to write their name if they wished to be contacted about their ideas on adding sports. We also included the e-mail addresses of our school athletic directors so the students could initiate contact on their own if they wanted to do so.

Once the above information had been gathered, we asked our athletic directors to chart their findings on a rubric. They reported on participation numbers, discrepancies in program components, and ideas for starting new sports.

We also assembled a committee of eight female coaches and athletic administrators to review and compile all the information. Breaking the eight members into teams of two, each pair checked one school's findings, asking for clarification as needed, and then put together the report on that school.

The final step was for us, as district administrators, to look over and verify everything. We then assembled a full report, which included an overview of the entire district and a breakdown of each school.

Fortunately, we did not find a great number of concerns in our Title IX compliance. We have been working on gender equity over the years, and it showed. One thing we were especially proud of is that the salaries, practice times, and competition facilities were virtually the same for both genders at all schools. But we certainly found discrepancies here and there, which included the following:

- One school had put pro-style wooden lockers in the boys' basketball locker room but had not done the same for the girls.

- Minor budgetary concerns were seen. For example, a boys' basketball team traveled to an overnight tournament, but the girls' team did not have the same opportunity.
Additionally, at one school, the baseball team's budget was higher than the softball team's budget.

- Football skews the entire process. This has been talked about for years at all levels, and we certainly found it to be the case in our schools. No other sport has rosters of 75 or requires the same type of support. And while football's ability to bring in more money than other sports drives dollars to girls' teams, it wreaks havoc on proportionality.

The finding with the largest ramifications was that we have more boys participating in sports than girls. This was not a surprise, but it forces us to dig deep to find solutions to this problem.

We shared the report with our schools, and we gave copies to certain administrators, including our Director of Human Resources, who is one of the district's designated Title IX coordinators. We took time to discuss the results among all athletic administrators in the district.

One of the best aspects of the process was that it allowed our schools' athletic directors to really see their program objectively. Because they are so busy day in and day out, it's hard for them to step back and honestly evaluate their own department. Being able to do so through the review and compare their rubric to a sister school was incredibly beneficial to them.

The process also led to our athletic directors engaging in conversations about how they go about tackling certain tasks. They each gained insight into new ways of completing rote duties while being mindful of Title IX. They learned that just because you have always done something one way does not mean it is the only way to do it. The open communication the review facilitated also helped break down some of the invisible boundaries of each school being independent or having its own issues.

To rectify the problems identified, we developed strategies and time frames. For example, the school with the discrepancy in basketball lockers initiated a fundraising campaign to raise enough money to install the pro-style lockers in its girls' room.

In terms of adding more opportunities for girls, we determined that we do not need new teams as much as we need more young women joining the squads already in operation. For the most part, we found that girls' participation is low not because we don't offer a sport they are interested in, but because of social and financial reasons. We've recognized the problems and documented the girls' concerns: no money for shoes, insurance, etc.; fear of looking bad in front of peers; working an after school job; don't like the coach; don't like the girls currently on the team; rather spend time with boyfriend. We are now working on strategies to overcome them.

Unquestionably, the largest change brought by the process is the higher level of awareness of Title IX. We notice this shift most at our district-wide athletic director meetings, where one of the lenses that we now use in analyzing ideas and proposed projects is that of Title IX.

We certainly felt like we were charting new waters in doing a Title IX assessment at the high school level, and we learned a lot. One thing we would do differently next time is to alter the survey format from paper to online, which would streamline the collection of data.

Another change would be including eighth graders in the student survey, as well as reframing the questions we asked females about adding a new sport. Instead of leaving it open-ended, which elicited responses such as quidditch and equestrian, we would add some parameters to receive more realistic responses.

The use of an all-female committee to evaluate the data and create final reports was done because we believed it would provide the most stringent litmus test. We felt that if we passed muster with this respected group of female coaches and athletic administrators, we must be doing things well. We cannot say that we regret that approach, but in the future, we will probably include male coaches and athletic administrators so that the committee is more representative.

As far as the coaches surveys are concerned, it might have worked better to hand them out as part of all the paperwork they are required to complete at the beginning of the school year. We distributed ours in December, and while our numbers of returned surveys were outstanding, we have to be cognizant of finding the best time of the school year and best method for disseminating and collecting these documents.

We will likely not do another extensive Title IX review anytime soon, but we do plan to conduct a survey of girls about their interest in athletics every two to three years. This will ensure we assess changes in interests, abilities, and popularity of new or different sports.

I would suggest, encourage, and recommend that every school district do a self-assessment for Title IX compliance. Not only does it provide adherence to the law, but if done with genuine intent, it demonstrates a concern for the young women within the school district. Just as important, it raises awareness and establishes Title IX as a factor when making decisions.

Sidebar: Coaches Survey
The following questions were asked of coaches as part of the Title IX self-assessment.

General questions:
1. What sport(s) do you coach?
2. What gender(s) do you coach?
3. How long have you been coaching?
4. Are there any particular reasons why members of the gender(s) that you coach do or do not participate in greater numbers?
5. To your knowledge is your program's budget on an equal basis with the budget of the same sport of the opposite gender?
6. Have you ever had a member of either gender complain to you about inequities that they perceived in the sports program at your school?

Information related to Title IX program components:
1. Do you personally feel that the interests of both genders are equally represented in the sports offered by your school?
2. Does your school provide equivalent levels of teams per sport, such as varsity, JV, "C", and/or freshmen teams?
3. Are there sports not currently offered that should be explored? Would opponents be readily available within reasonable geographic range?
4. To your knowledge, are the genders equally provided with equipment, uniforms, and supplies in your school's athletic program?
5. Are practice times, practice facilities, locker rooms, and competition facilities essentially equal for both genders?
6. Is the amount of money allotted for travel, meals, tournament entry fees, etc., essentially equal between the genders?
7. Is tutoring and the handling of special needs situations of student-athletes treated equally at your school?
8. Are the number and quality of coaches essentially equal for the genders?
9. Are support services such as PA announcers, pep bands, and cheerleaders provided on an equal basis?
10. Does the school provide either gender with more resources than the opposite gender for being recruited to play in college?

1. Please comment on any gender inequity that is happening at your school.
2. Do you have documentation of any gender inequities in the program?
3. Do you have any other concerns that you would like to express related to gender equity compliance?
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