Probe faults state’s Title IX determination

Vancouver man’s complaints linked to ‘technical’ aspect

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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Washington failed to ensure that school districts are providing equal access to athletic activities for boys and girls under Title IX, a lengthy Department of Education investigation found after a Vancouver man’s complaints.

In light of 2011 allegations by Mark Rossmiller, the federal Office of Civil Rights found the state’s Equity and Civil Rights Office incorrectly determined whether districts were providing athletic opportunities for boys and girls.

The specific violation lies in a “pretty technical part” of Title IX, said Callie Sechrist, director of Equity and Civil Rights for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In order to comply with Title IX, the federal law banning schools from discriminating on the basis of gender, school athletic departments must pass one of three markers under the Three-Part Test. The test determines whether or not a school is offering equal opportunities for boys and girls.

Part One of that three-part test requires districts provide sports opportunities proportionate to their student body. For example, if boys make up 60 percent of a school and girls 40 percent, then 60 percent of the athletic opportunities must be available for boys and 40 percent for girls.

OSPI previously determined that districts met the requirements of Part One if their schools needed to add fewer than 15 or 20 spots for members of the underrepresented sex. That’s a more blanket approach than Title IX requires, according to a letter the Office of Civil Rights sent to OSPI.

Instead, the state should have looked at each school on a case-by-case basis, determining whether the number of opportunities that would need to be added would allow the school to add a viable team. That number may depend on the individual school, the letter said.

The state “improperly approved school districts’ interscholastic athletics programs, and thereby perpetuated discrimination against students by providing significant assistance to those school districts that discriminated on the basis of sex by failing to provide equal athletic opportunity to both sexes,” the Office of Civil Rights wrote in a letter to OSPI.

The Office of Civil Rights did not find that OSPI failed to apply the other two parts of the three-part test, which require schools to expand their programs in reaction to the underrepresented sex’s interest, or that the institution is fully accommodating the interests of the underrepresented sex.

In an email to The Columbian, Rossmiller said, “2,502 days were expended in this OCR compliance review and substantial disproportionality in female interscholastic sports continues unabated in Washington state in violation of federal Title IX law.”

Sechrist downplayed the severity of the findings.

“There are things we could absolutely do better,” Sechrist said. “I don’t believe it’s akin to discrimination as they say in their letter.”

An Education Department spokesman could not provide additional specifics on the investigation, saying Wednesday the Office of Civil Rights is currently monitoring the agreement.

OSPI must review and revise its policies to make sure it’s complying with the first part of the three-part test, provide training to Equality and Civil Rights Office staff on the requirements and write to all school and district administrators including a description of the requirements of Part One.

Sechrist said that in the six years since the investigation began, OSPI has already begun to make those improvements.

“This is really an opportunity for us to continue to improve our practices, provide training for our staff and make sure we’re reviewing districts in the same way,” Sechrist said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Callie Sechrist, director of Equity and Civil Rights for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.