Title IX complaint seeks equality for female sports in Washington schools

The Federal Way School District and the U.S. Department of Education have entered into an agreement after an allegation was filed regarding the district not offering equal sports opportunities for female high school students.

The complaint, which was formally accepted by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), basically said the school district is not in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded education programs and activities, including athletics.

“We are taking this seriously, whether there is a complaint or not,” said Rick Serns, the school district’s Title IX officer and director of employment services. “We’ve offered the same amount of sports for a number of years. We just don’t have the participation levels up as high as some people would like.”

In a 10-page letter dated April 13, Gary D. Jackson, the director of Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, informs the anonymous complainant that the Federal Way School District will address the allegation. The letter was also signed by Federal Way Superintendent Robert Neu.

“The district has agreed to take the actions set forth in the (agreement), which, when fully implemented, will resolve the issue raised by your complaint,” Jackson wrote. “(OCR) will monitor the district’s implementation of the agreement and notify you when the provisions of the agreement have been implemented.”

The agreement, which does not constitute an admission of any violation of Title IX by the district, calls for Federal Way to provide OCR with data about participation numbers throughout the next 10 months. If the OCR is not satisfied with the results, it could ask the district to offer more female teams in sports currently offered at the schools, create new girls-only sports or establish intramural or club sports for females.

According to Serns, Federal Way wasn’t the only school district in the state to receive the complaint. He said the same letter was sent to more than 20 different districts in Washington. Those districts are also addressing the Title IX complaint.

“It’s nothing that was specifically targeting Federal Way,” Serns said. “It’s just something that somebody wants to make sure the district pays attention to.”

The letter from OCR asks the district to provide data on how many boys and girls are signed up in each athletic program, how many different sports the district offers and what other sport programs are available in the community.

“We are currently in the process of filing reports,” Serns said. “We feel like we’ve consistently done this and feel like we will continue in the future. We are doing an interest survey to see if there’s any way we can tweak things.”

Federal Way statistics

For the 2010-11 school year, Federal Way’s school population is made up of 51.4 percent boys and 48.6 percent girls, according to the school district’s most recent numbers.

In contrast, the percentage of students participating in athletics is 40.6 female and 59.4 percent male at the four Federal Way high schools. Title IX essentially states that the gender percentages of the overall student population should match the percentage of students participating in athletics.

The largest gender differential comes at Thomas Jefferson, where only 39.6 of the athletes are girls. The smallest is at Decatur, where 41.6 of the sports participants are female.

“Until they match the ratio of enrollment, there will be room for people to question,” Serns said.

All four Federal Way high schools offer 10 boys sports (football, golf, cross country, tennis, basketball, wrestling, swimming, baseball, soccer and track) and 10 girls-only sports (volleyball, soccer, golf, swimming, cross country, basketball, gymnastics, fastpitch, tennis and track). All four schools also offer wrestling for interested girls.

“Boys participate more in athletics, even though we offer the same amount of sports,” Serns said. “The complaint doesn’t allege that there is any failure in the facilities, teams, fields or practice space. It just says we haven’t done enough to get more girls to participate.”

Serns said the Federal Way School District is conducting surveys that ask girls at the high schools why they don’t participate in athletics at as high of a level as their male counterparts.

“We want to encourage participation,” he said. “The purpose of the survey is to analyze what the interest areas are.”


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