Most tend to think of Title IX as involving just numbers, because that's what we see most often when we read about the law as it applies to college sports programs. But Title IX isn't just a numbers game; as two recent cases in the news highlight, it also requires that the girls receive equal treatment and benefits from educational institutions, including high schools.First, a federal district court judge in Los Angeles issued an opinion finding that the Sweetwater Union School District violated Title IX by providing girls sports inferior resources and facilities, including gym lockers too small to hold their equipment while the boys' teams were given larger lockers, and less support from the band and cheerleaders than was given boys' teams. The District vows to appeal.
The District Superintendent unsuccessfully argued that Title IX didn't apply to high schools, a position whose most prominent advocate is the American Sports Council, which has been involved in litigation against the U.S. Department of Education challenging Title IX's applicability at the high school level (for an excellent rebuttal to ASC's position, check out this post from Title IX Blog).
While I could understand how a school district like the Sweetwater might submit a amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in someone else's lawsuit to support the American Sports Council, it seems fiscally irresponsible for them to spend large sums of money advancing such a theory in their own case, and on appeal, as the position is almost a certain loser. This is a matter for lobbyists, not lawyers. If one doesn't want Title IX to apply to high schools, one needs to go to Congress, not to court.
The second big Title IX news this month comes from Texas, where the Dallas Independent School District spent $57,000 to take 5,000 boys, but no girls, to see Red Tails, George Lucas's World War II movie about the famous African-American pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen. According to a blog in the Dallas Morning News, the "[d]istrict said only boys were invited to the screening because the theater lacked space to accommodate everyone and [because the] district leaders thought boys would enjoy the movie more." Since Title IX bars sex discrimination in any educational program receiving federal funding, the answer to the question posed by the blogger - Did the boys-only Dallas ISD field trip to see Red Tails violate Title IX? - is, yes, the boys-only field trip probably violated Title IX. I only hedge because of the very slim chance that seeing Red Tails, given its generally poor reviews - would not be considered a "meaningful benefit", which seems unlikely given the fact that the movie was deemed sufficiently educational to warrant a field trip for 5,000 boys!
One might be tempted to feel sorry for the Sweetwater Union District, which appears to have innocently violated Title IX, though their Superintendent's theory about Title IX is not likely to pass legal muster. But it's hard to justify the Dallas school district's decision to leave the girls home from the movie field trip. That just seems plain dumb (and sexist). But, maybe there's something that we don't know - maybe there's some male leadership program with a female leadership counterpart. Maybe the girls are going to see a movie later in the year. Still, it seems to me that, from a legal perspective, the Dallas Independent School District is going to be the one that ends up being shot down on this one.
Posted February 17, 2012