In 2010 Clark County, Nevada, the largest public school district in the state, faced allegations that it was failing to provide the educational opportunities required by law for girls enrolled in its high schools. Now, thanks to an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), that should change.
The Clark County School District is among 12 public school districts across the country, including Chicago Public Schools and Houston Public Schools, to have a double-digit disparity between the percentage of girls who are students and girls who participate in sports. According to a 2010 complaint filed with the OCR by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), that disparity means girls in the state are not receiving equal opportunities to play sports, in violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools.
The complaint prompted an investigation in the Clark County district by the OCR, which revealed district-wide disparities of 2 to 22 percentage points between girls’ enrollment and the share of athletic participation opportunities provided to them in the district’s 36 schools. Based on the information provided by the district, girls were underrepresented in the interscholastic athletics program at all but one of the high schools for which the district provided enrollment and athletic participation data for the 2009-10 school year. These gaps amount to a total of more than 2,600 lost opportunities for female students. Based on those findings, the Clark County district agreed to change its policies to provide those opportunities.
“The resolution of this complaint confirms the Center’s conclusion that the schools’ own data demonstrate widespread disparities in athletic opportunities,” NWLC Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger said in a statement. “This decision sends a clear message that the district must do more to provide girls equal chances to reap the valuable benefits of playing sports that extend far beyond the playing field. Numerous studies show that girls who participate in sports attain higher academic achievement, experience lower teenage pregnancy rates and have overall better health. The Center’s findings and OCR’s investigation underscore the urgency of treating girls fairly and putting these schools on the path toward compliance with Title IX.”
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Under this agreement with OCR, the Clark County district will conduct a comprehensive assessment by September 30 to determine whether female students have unmet athletics interests. The assessment will include a survey of all high school and eighth-grade female students. The district is required to provide its findings to OCR and to outline the additional athletic opportunities that it will offer its female students to ensure a level playing field.
Presuming the OCR approves of the district’s plan, it will then begin the task of implementing it.
Title IX has been instrumental in the fight for equal opportunity, yet 41 years after its enactment cases like this represent just the tip of the iceberg in getting at systemic inequalities in educational opportunities.