D.C. official to introduce bill requiring schools to report boys and girls sports data

September 16, 2013

Faced with two formal Title IX complaints, years of angry parents’ pushing for change and steep disparities between boys and girls who play sports in the District’s public schools, D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie on Tuesday plans to introduce legislation that he hopes will finally bring equity and more opportunity.

The bill, which has garnered support from five of the council’s 13 members, would require all public and charter elementary, middle and high schools to publicly report how much they spend on boys’ and girls’ sports, the quality of the equipment, fields and facilities for boys’ and girls’ teams, and the number of boys and girls who participate.

If the legislation passes, the District of Columbia would become one of only a handful of jurisdictions, including Georgia, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, that require schools to report Title IX equity data, as a federal law requires all colleges and universities to do.

“I’m the parent of two young girls who love sports, and up until this point, we have not seen the same opportunities for girls to play sports as for boys. I want to change that,” McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said. “We shouldn’t have to wait until a complaint is filed to do something. If you look at some of the girls’ participation rates in the schools, it’s just jaw-dropping.”

The gaps between the number of girls enrolled in the District’s traditional high schools and the number who actually play sports ranged from a low of 5 percent at majority-female Banneker to 19 percent at Wilson to 26 percent at Ballou and Roosevelt, according to 2010 data, the latest available, that the National Women’s Law Center obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

That information, which would become available annually under McDuffie’s bill, was part of the reason that the law center filed a Title IX complaint in June against District schools with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. (A second group has filed a separate Title IX complaint.)

The law center’s complaint also highlighted that girls in the District’s traditional public high schools routinely have fewer opportunities to play sports than boys and that they often have lower-quality facilities, fields, uniforms, lockers and coaching. The complaint noted how one girls’ team resorted to using masking tape to make numbers on their uniforms, and how boys at one school practiced on nearby fields, while the girls had to lug heavy equipment more than a mile away to play.

The school system is in negotiations with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, said D.C. schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz.

“Parents have a right to this information,” said Neena Chaudhry, legal counsel for the National Women’s Law Center. “We talk to students and parents all the time, and they can see what the boys are getting that the girls aren’t. But they don’t have a sense of the whole picture or just how widespread the problems are.”

Chaudhry said it was particularly important that the proposed legislation covers charter schools, where more than 40 percent of D.C. public school students are enrolled and where there is no currently public information on sports or sports equity.

Janice Johnson, who heads the Sankofa Project and has advocated for fairness in sports for girls for years, said getting good information is the only way the system can change.

“We know that boys who play football have wonderful opportunities to go on to college on athletic scholarships, but how many girls get to go? We don’t know. We haven’t collected the data,” she said. “The data collection will help us see for real where we stand, not just for girls and boys, but also by geography. We’ll see that schools east of the river, east of the park, pale in comparison to schools on the other side of the divide.”

A similar effort calling for regular equity reporting died in the council a few years ago. Johnson and Chaudhry said that with the complaints filed and media attention, they are more “hopeful” this time.

McDuffie’s legislation also calls for the mayor to come up with a five-year plan for ensuring equity, for schools to better handle Title IX grievances with district and school-wide Title IX coordinators, and for a new NCAA eligibility and athletic scholarship coordinator to ensure both boys and girls are being groomed for potential play in college.

Brigid Schulte writes about work-life issues and poverty, seeking to understand what it takes to live The Good Life across race, class and gender.
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