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Court Revives Title IX Challenge to Girls Basketball Schedule

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit that claims girls basketball at an Indiana high school receives less desirable scheduling than the boys team, in violation of Title IX.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, ruled unanimously that the suit against the Franklin County, Ind., school system should go to trial to determine whether an "obvious disparity" in boys' and girls' basketball schedules amounts to denying equal athletic opportunities to girls.

The suit filed on behalf of several girls' basketball players at Franklin County High School says that during the 2009-10 season, 95 percent of the boys team's games were in "prime time"—such as on a Friday or Saturday night—while just over 50 percent of girls' games were played on such nights when there was no school the next day. When the girls play on Friday or Saturday night they attract large crowds, but on non-prime time nights the crowds are sparse and there is no participation by bands or cheerleaders, court papers say.

The 7th Circuit court painted a picture right out of the movie "Hoosiers."

"A packed gymnasium, cheerleaders rallying the fans, the crowd on their feet supporting their team, and the pep band playing the school song: these are all things you might expect to see at an Indiana high school basketball game on a Friday night," the court said. "The crowd becomes part of the game; they provide motivation, support, and encouragement to the players."

But the non-prime time games "result in a loss of audience, conflict with homework, and foster feelings of inferiority," the court said in its Jan. 31 opinion in Parker v. Franklin County Community School Corp.

Two mothers, including one who was the girls' basketball coach at Franklin County High, filed the suit on behalf of their daughters. The suit said the disparate scheduling violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

A federal district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, which include the Franklin County district, other districts in its athletic conference, and the athletic conference itself.

The 7th Circuit court, in reviving the lawsuit, lauded the 40-year-old Title IX's role in expanding athletic opportunities for girls and women.

"Although Title IX has gone a long way in increasing the status and respect for female athletes, discrimination endures," the court said.

The court noted that as far back as 1997, the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights wrote a letter to the Indiana High School Athletic Association indicating that OCR viewed the differences in boys' and girls' basketball schedules as "substantial."

"The letter from the OCR was distributed to Franklin 14 years ago; yet, the disparity in scheduling continues," the 7th Circuit court said.

The court concluded that the evidence of harms from the disparate scheduling, such as the academic burden of more weeknight games, the smaller crowds at such games, and possible feelings of inferiority "are not insignificant and may have the effect of discouraging girls from participating in sports in contravention of the purposes of Title IX," the court said.

The court also revived a claim under the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause, ruling that the school district was not immune from that claim as an arm of the state.

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