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Facing Title IX Complaint, District to Gauge Students' Sports Interests

A South Dakota school district facing a Title IX investigation from the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights will be surveying students this fall to gauge their interest in sports.

At a school board meeting on Monday night, the Sioux Falls district introduced a draft policy that calls for an "assessment to determine the athletic interests and abilities" of students at least once every five years. Further assessments will also be conducted if fewer than 50 percent of the students respond to a prior survey; if a complaint of underrepresentation gets filed; if there is a request to add new teams; or if "there are significant changes in district demographics and/or enrollment," according to the policy.

In November 2010, the National Women's Law Center filed complaints against Sioux Falls and 11 other districts alleging that they were in violation of Title IX, the federal legislation that prohibits gender-based discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity. Four of those districts have since reached a settlement with the federal civil rights' office, although Sioux Falls' case remains open.

In all four of those cases, the civil rights office found girls to be underrepresented athletically, based on each of the districts' total enrollment figures. The OCR also discovered that none of the four districts had recently gauged student interest in athletics.

Thus, the agreement entered with each of the four districts required them to prove that they're adequately meeting the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex in terms of athletics.

As a refresher, schools can satisfy Title IX in one of three ways:

  • Show that neither gender is proportionally underrepresented in athletics, based on total school enrollment;
  • Demonstrate that the athletic interests of the underrepresented sex have been met;
  • Show a history of continually expanding athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex.

By surveying students about their athletic interests, the Sioux Falls district could, in theory, prove its compliance with Title IX. Then again, the district could also find that the data collected proves it's not complying with the federal law.

Sue Simons, the district's assistant superintendent and civil rights officer, told the Argus Leader that the survey wasn't directly related to the Title IX investigation, but said, "I think the complaint raised the district's awareness about the issue."

According to the newspaper, the 2010 NWLC complaint cited OCR data showing that in 2006, as much as 50 percent of the district's student body was female, but only roughly 35 percent of the district's athletes were female. (That's a strike against the "proportional representation" prong, if true.)

The district, however, responded by claiming that incomplete data were cited, the paper reports.

As for the district's draft survey policy? It will be posted for public review on the district's website and will return for a second reading in front of the school board on September 9.

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