District lawmakers appear poised to pass legislation meant to address large and enduring discrepancies between boys’ and girls’ sports opportunities in the city’s public schools, disparities that triggered two recent civil rights complaints and years of frustration among parents, athletes and activists.
The bill, introduced by D.C. Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and cosponsored by all 12 of his colleagues, would require traditional public and public charter schools to report how much they spend on boys’ and girls’ sports. Schools also would have to publicly disclose the number of male and female participants and the quality of their equipment, fields and facilities.
“We’ve been having this conversation for a very long time,” said McDuffie, the father of two young girls. “We need to get past the conversation stage and get to the action stage.”
Advocates for girls’ sports embraced the measure during a council hearing Wednesday, calling it an important step toward living up to the promise of Title IX — the federal civil rights law that ensures gender equity in scholastic sports — and ending decades of complacence about lack of opportunity for girls in public school athletics.
“We shouldn’t let our student athletes struggle with inequities that are visible and reversible,” said Katherine L. Garrett, the mother of two girls in the District’s public schools, who offered a litany of ways in which girls’ teams have been treated poorly: soccer games canceled because fields weren’t prepared, basketball games canceled because referees weren’t available and uniforms with numbers made out of duct tape.
The bill also would require the mayor to create a five-year plan for ensuring equity citywide, as well as Title IX coordinators at each school and a new NCAA coordinator to ensure both boys and girls are being groomed for potential play in — and scholarships to — college.
Janice Dove Johnson, a parent who founded the Sankofa Project to push for athletic equity in the District, said she has seen too many girls lose out because they don’t have access to sports in school. “Failure to pass this bill will cause our D.C. female scholar-athletes to continue to be left behind, and hundreds of thousands of scholarship dollars left on the table,” she said.
Neena Chaudhry, legal counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, said the bill could move D.C. from being one of the worst Title IX offenders to a model of fairness. “Passing this bill would really show that the District is finally committed to leveling the playing field for girls,” she said.
Chaudhry said that only a handful of states collect such detailed participation and spending information to monitor equity between girls’ and boys’ sports teams.
Last summer, the National Women’s Law Center filed a federal Title IX discrimination complaint against the District’s school system, citing disparities between the percentage of girls enrolled in a school and the percentage playing sports.
The participation gaps in high school ranged from a low of 5 percent at majority-female Banneker to 26 percent at Ballou and Roosevelt, according to 2010 data the law center obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. That complaint is still under investigation.
A second Title IX complaint against District schools filed in May 2012 was resolved in October when the city agreed to begin collecting and publicly sharing the number of girls participating in sports. The city also agreed to expand girls’ sports team rosters where there’s interest and to take “ongoing steps” to develop girls’ interest and ability in sports.
School system officials said Wednesday that the settlement has sparked progress. Most high schools now have female sports liaisons, who are responsible for encouraging and supporting girls’ sports, and the system is planning to measure girls’ interest in athletics by administering a survey in February to students in eighth grade and above, said Chief of Schools John Davis.
If girls express interest for opportunities that aren’t available, the school system is prepared to pay for more offerings, he said. About 17 percent of high school girls played sports last year, compared to 25 percent of boys, he said.
“We know that we still have much more to accomplish,” Davis said.
Clark Ray, director of the state athletic association for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), represented the administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) at the hearing.
“We applaud the bill’s focus and intent and believe that the legislation’s requirements are well-aligned with the efforts that OSSE, and the District as a whole, has recently embarked upon,” Ray said.