The HEW deadline imposed three years ago for public schools to get into the "coed mode" passed on Friday, July 21 and "in most cases our schools are far along in complying with Title IX," according the Bonnie Becker.
Becker should know. For three years it's been her job to direct Fairfax County's implementation of Title IX, a law aimed at eliminating sex discrimination in any federally funded educational program or activity.
Beckermade a last minute check late in the spring to see if program changes were needed in individual schools, and she says she is confident that all schools will be in compliance with Title IX by the time the school year begins in September.
"If for some reason they're not (in complaince)," Becker says, "I'll apprise the appropriate area superintendent of the situation. But I don't operate on threats. I tell them this is how it's supposed to be done and I expect them to do it."
In general, she says, cooperation has been good.
In her office, surrounded by posters saying "Woman Power," "Women Working," and "Support Your Local Feminists," Becker holds up her well worn copy of Title IX and its 57 pages of regulations. "Title IX is not an educational law, it's a civil right law that applies to education," Becker explains in an attempt to clear up a common misconception. "It brings the rights, privileges, processes and procedures that apply to adults to the schools.
"There are people who say that maybe it would be better not to combine girls and boys in certain classes. But by law we can't segregate the sexes outside of school, so we can't in school either.
"Besides, girls don't know how to make white sauce just because they're girls. They know it because they're taught it."
Becker, who is known as the "sex bias lady" around the school administration offices, said she was received "warily" by principals in 1975 when she became the first Title IX officer to be appointed in the state. But she says, "There was no overt hostility and whatever might have been said behind my attack, I was oblivious to. Whenever I asked someone to do something, they've pretty well done it in good grace."
In response to Title IX, and with Becker's guidance, curricula in Fairfax have been revised to eliminate all-male and all-female classes; guidance counselors have been made aware that they should not schedule students solely on the basis of their sex; coaches of athletic teams have had their pay supplements equalized, and female athletic facilities are in the process of being upgraded.
Prior to Title IX, Becker notes, schools had separate physical education classes for men and women and often required home economics for girls and industrial arts for boys. "One school even had a girls' math and boys' math. The girls learned fractions through measurements for cooking and the boys studied them for cutting boards," she said.
Physical education programs required the most extensive restructuring in order to comply with Title IX, said Becker. Boys and girls now must be given the opportunity to participate in the same activities during class.
Recently, coaches of girls basketball and track teams had their pay supplements raised to the same level as their counterparts on boys teams. As an example of the fact that Title IX is not limited to women's concerns, Becker noted that boys gymnastics team coaches recently had their supplemental pay raised to the level of girls team coaches.
Home economics programs now offer courses like gourmet cooking or single living, which are open to boys and girls.
But Becker, 37, who is from a "very conservative family that doesn't approve of what I'm doing," said traditional sex stereotypes make some students reluctant to take advantage of changes brought about by Title IX.
"We're making gains in the vocational education areas, but they're slow and uneven," Becker says. "We're facing the problems of social custom, but we're trying to develop programs that show either sex can fit in."
Some teachers say coed physical education is responsible for boys losing interest in the class and others claim it is making them more aware of girls' athletic abilities. Becker, who says she "studiously avoided PE in school," feels the positives outweigh the negatives.
"It's an important area because a woman's traditional socialization process doesn't show her how she fits into a team situation and that carries over into business and management situations," Becker says. "Girls have always tended to get along only if they liked one another. Boys learn to get along with someone, even if they don't like him, as long as he helps the team."
Becker would like to see guidance counselors try to clarify values for girls to "make them more future-oriented. Right now a counselor might tell a girl she can be a mathematician, but because of sex stereotyping, she probably won't pursue it. She doesn't see that as a career for women."
Becker admits she was somewhat less than future-oriented herself when in college at Indiana University she chose to be a German major "because I was in love with one of the professors so I took every course he taught."
Becker, a mother of two, says her turning point from being a full-time housewife to a "radical"feminist came in 1969 when she applied to take a course at Northern Virginia Community College and the application required her husband's signature as her guardian.
"That's when I got involved in the general awakening toward women," she said.
By 1974 she had her first full-time job as a member of Fairfax County schools human relations department. A year later she was studying the Title IX regulations when she came across a section advising schools to appoint a coordinator to implement the law. "I pointed that out to Superintendent (S. John) Davis in a memo, and he appointed me to the job," Becker said.
Becker now sees more in her future than "being the sex bias lady forever. The likelihood of being old and poor if you're a woman is high. I feel I'm going to live a long time and I don't want to turn into a poor old bag lady."
Becker is keeping her options open, she said, while she works with Title IX to open options for students today.