The disparity in boys’ and girls’ sports in the District of Columbia’s school system has long been a known issue, and the past six months have highlighted the lingering problem. The National Women’s Law Center filed a federal complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights in June, alleging that the District’s public school system had violated Title IX. And while that complaint is still under investigation, District school officials settled another Title IX complaint in October — and now local lawmakers are eyeing legislation to create an equal playing field for girls across the city.
In November, the District of Columbia State Athletic Association made its own move to help keep the city’s schools Title IX compliant, hiring Marie Rudolph as a senior women’s administrator and Title IX coordinator. Rudolph will spearhead the intensive data collecting effort the DCSAA plans to undertake, including in the city’s charter and private schools.
“This is the first Title IX coordinator that we’ve had for statewide athletics, so in that sense, it’s pioneering,” DCSAA Athletic Director Clark Ray said. “It is certainly something other states have all across the country. So it’s not that we’re being creative here in the District of Columbia. We are following suit and making sure that we can represent our student athletes.”
Ray had been eyeing Rudolph for the position for two years, he said, hoping to bring her background in politics and sports to the forefront once it was created. A Colorado native, Rudolph co-founded the Military Bowl and has worked with Washington female sports advocate Janice Dove Johnson on the Sankofa Project, which puts on the National Title IX Holiday Invitational Conference and Classic in January.
Her hiring came just five months after the NWLC filed its complaint, which found that nine of the District’s 15 traditional high schools have gaps exceeding 10 percent in boys-to-girls sports participation.
The DCSAA hopes to make inroads by cultivating female sports coaching, and Rudolph has been charged with organizing coaching clinics in volleyball in March, as well as in girls’ soccer and softball later this spring.
“[Title IX] was particularly important to [Mayor Vincent C. Gray], it’s been important to Clark as he continues to fill out the office,” Rudolph said. “I wouldn’t say that the District. . . needs more work than other jurisdictions around the country. Some may argue with that. But until we have the data, we really can’t say for sure exactly where we are among the other urban [areas] or other cities across the country.”
The DCSAA expects to have baseline data collected by the end of the fiscal year, Ray said, which will simply outline how many boys and girls compete in sports at each of the city’s schools. But the office is preparing for an even more massive data collecting effort should District lawmakers pass a bill introduced in September by D.C. Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), which would require the city’s public and public charter schools to report how much they spend on boys’ and girls’ sports, as well as publicly disclose the number of male and female participants and the quality of their equipment, fields and facilities.
The bill would also require the mayor to adopt a five-year plan, which would include Title IX coordinators at each school and a new NCAA coordinator to help prepare prospective college athletes.
The DCSAA’s creation of Rudolph’s role represents a step forward, said Neena Chaudhry, senior legal counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, who helped craft the NWLC’s complaint in June. Chaudhry, who has been examining Title IX issues since 1997, said that a lack of transparency with girls’ sports data has long plagued the District’s school system. With nearly half of the city’s student population now attending charter schools, collecting that information from schools that have not previously been tracked is critical, she said.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction to hire a Title IX coordinator and looking at these issues. And we are encouraged that they are doing that,” Chaudhry said. “It’s also just a real opportunity and we hope that they will use their position to bring some uniformity to the information that is collected, and to really actually help get the information out there.”